The Christian (Fourth Book, Chapters I to X)
Six months passed, and a panic terror had seized London. It was one of those epidemic frenzies which have fallen upon great cities in former ages of the world. The public mind was filled with the idea that London was threatened with a serious danger; that it was verging on an awful crisis; that it was about to be destroyed.
The signs were such as have usually been considered preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah—a shock of earthquake which threw down a tottering chimney (somewhere in Soho), and the expected appearance of a comet. But this was not to be the second Advent; it was to be a disaster confined to London.
God was about to punish London for its sins. The dishonour lay at its door of being the wickedest city in the world. Side by side with the development of mechanical science lifting men to the power and position of angels, there was a moral degeneration degrading them to the level of beasts. With an apparent aspiration after social and humanitarian reform, there was a corruption of the public conscience and a hardening of the public heart. London was the living picture of this startling contrast. Impiety, iniquity, impurity, and injustice were at their height here, and either England must forfeit her position among the nations, or the Almighty would interpose. The Almighty was about to interpose, and the consummation of London’s wickedness was near.
By what means the destruction of London would come to pass was a matter on which there were many theories, and the fear and consternation of the people took various shapes. One of them was that of a mighty earthquake, in which the dome of St. Paul’s was to totter and the towers of Westminster Abbey to rock and fall amid clouds of dust. Another was that of an avenging fire, in which the great city was to light up the whole face of Europe and burn to ashes as a witness of God’s wrath at the sins of men. A third was that of a flood, in which the Thames was to rise and submerge the city, and tens of thousands of houses and hundreds of thousands of persons were to be washed away and destroyed.
Concerning the time of the event, the popular imagination had attained to a more definite idea. It was to occur on the great day of the Epsom races. Derby Day was the national day. More than any day associated with political independence, or with victory in battle, or yet with religious sanctity, the day devoted to sport and gambling and intemperance and immorality was England’s day. Therefore the Almighty had selected that day for the awful revelation by which he would make his power known to man.
Thus the heart of London was once more stormed, and shame and panic ran through it like an epidemic. The consequences were the usual ones. In vain the newspapers published articles in derision of the madness, with accounts of similar frenzies which had laid hold of London before. There was a run on the banks, men sold their businesses, dissolved their partnerships, transferred their stocks, and removed to houses outside the suburbs. Great losses were sustained in all ranks of society, and the only class known to escape were the Jews on the Exchange, who held their peace and profited by their infidelity.
When people asked themselves who the author and origin of the panic was they thought instantly and with one accord of a dark-eyed, lonely man, who walked the streets of London in the black cassock of a monk, with the cord and three knots which were the witness of life vows. No dress could have shown to better advantage his dark-brown face and tall figure. Something majestic seemed to hang about the man. His big lustrous eyes, his faint smile with its sad expression always behind it, his silence, his reserve, his burning eloquence when he preached—seemed to lay siege to the imagination of the populace, and especially to take hold as with a fiery grip of the impassioned souls of women.
A certain mystery about his life did much to help this extraordinary fascination. When London as a whole became conscious of him it was understood that he was in some sort a nobleman as well as a priest, and had renounced the pleasures and possessions of the world and given up all for God. His life was devoted to the poor and outcast, especially to the Magdalenes and their unhappy children. Although a detached monk still and living in obedience to the rule of one of the monastic brotherhoods of the Anglican Church, he was also vicar of a parish in Westminster. His church was a centre of religious life in that abandoned district, having no fewer than thirty parochial organizations connected with it, including guilds, clubs, temperance societies, savings banks, and, above all, shelters and orphanages for the girls and their little ones, who were the vicar’s especial care.
His chief helpers were a company of devoted women, drawn mainly from the fashionable fringe which skirted his squalid district and banded together as a Sisterhood. For clerical help he depended entirely on the brothers of his society, and the money saved by these voluntary agencies he distributed among the poor, the sick, and the unfortunate. Money of his own he had none, and his purse was always empty by reason of his free-handedness. Rumour spoke of a fortune of many thousands which had been spent wholly on others in the building or maintenance of school and hospital, shelter and refuge. He lived a life of more than Christian simplicity, and was seen to treat himself with constant disregard of comfort and convenience. His only home was two rooms (formerly assigned to the choir) on the ground floor under his church, and it was understood that he slept on a hospital bed, wrapped in the cloak which in winter he wore over his cassock. His personal servant in these cell-like quarters was a lay brother from his society—a big ungainly boy with sprawling features who served him and loved him and looked up to him with the devotion of a dog. A dog of other kind he had also—a bloodhound, whose affection for him was a terror to all who awakened its jealousy or provoked its master’s wrath. People said he had learned renunciation and was the most Christlike man they had ever known. He was called “The Father.”
Such was the man with whom the popular imagination associated the idea of the panic, but what specific ground there was for laying upon him the responsibility of the precise predictions which led to it none could rightly say. It was remembered afterward that every new folly had been ascribed to him. “The Father says so and so,” or “The Father says such and such will come to pass,” and then came prophecies which were the remotest from his thoughts. No matter how wild or extravagant the assertion, if it was laid upon him there were people ready to believe it, so deep was the impression made on the public mind by this priest in the black cassock with the bloodhound at his heels, so strong was the assurance that he was a man with the breath of God in him.
What was known with certainty was that the Father preached against the impurities and injustices of the age with a vehemence never heard before, and that when he spoke of the wickedness of the world toward woman, of the temptations that were laid before her—temptations of dress, of luxury, of false work and false fame—and then of the cruel neglect and abandonment of woman when her summer had gone and her winter had come, his lips seemed to be touched as by a live coal from the altar and his eyes to blaze as with Pentecostal fire. Cities and nations which countenanced and upheld such corruptions of a false civilization would be overtaken by the judgment of God. That judgment was near, it was imminent; and but for the many instances in which the life of the rich, the great, and the powerful was redeemed by the highest virtue, this pitiful farce of a national existence would have been played out already; but for the good men still found in Sodom, the city of abominations must long since have been destroyed. People there were to laugh at these predictions, but they were only throwing cold water on lime; the more they did so the more it smoked.
Little by little a supernatural atmosphere gathered about the Father as a man sent from God. One day he visited a child who was sick with a bad mouth, and touching the child’s mouth he said, “It will be well soon.” The child recovered immediately, and the idea started that he was a healer. People waited for him that they might touch his hand. Sometimes after service he had to stand half an hour while the congregation filed past him. Hard-headed persons, sane and acute in other relations of life, were heard to protest that on shaking hands with him an electric current passed through them. Sick people declared themselves cured by the sight of him, and charlatans sold handkerchiefs on pretence that he had blessed them. He repeatedly protested that it was not necessary to touch or even to see him. “Your faith alone can make you whole.” But the frenzy increased, the people crowded upon him and he was followed through the streets for his blessing.
Somebody discovered that he was born on the 25th of December, and was just thirty-three years of age. Then the madness reached its height. A certain resemblance was observed in his face and head to the traditional head and face of Christ, and it was the humour of the populace to discover some mystical relations between him and the divine figure. Hysterical women kissed his hand and even hailed him as their Saviour. He protested and remonstrated, but all to no purpose. The delusion grew, and his protestations helped it.
As the day approached that was to be big with the fate of London, his church, which had been crowded before, was now besieged. He was understood to preach the hope that in the calamity to befall the city a remnant would be saved, as Israel was saved from the plagues of Egypt. Thousands who were too poor to leave London had determined to spend the night of the fateful day in the open air, and already they were going out into the fields and the parks, to Hampstead, Highgate, and Blackheath. The panic was becoming terrible and the newspapers were calling upon the authorities to intervene. A danger to the public peace was threatened, and the man who was chiefly to blame for it should be dealt with at once. No matter that he was innocent of active sedition, no matter that he was living a life devoted to religious and humanitarian reforms, no matter that his vivid faith, his trust in God, and his obedience to the divine will were like a light shining in a dark place, no matter that he was not guilty of the wild extravagance of the predictions of his followers—”the Father” was a peril, he was a panic-maker, and he should be arrested and restrained.
The morning of Derby Day broke gray and dull and close. It was one of those mornings in summer which portend a thunderstorm and great heat. In that atmosphere London awoke to two great fevers—the fever of superstitious fear and the fever of gambling and sport.
But London is a monster with many hearts; it is capable of various emotions, and even at that feverish time it was at the full tide of a sensation of a different kind entirely. This was a new play and a new player. The play was “risky”; it was understood to present the fallen woman in her naked reality, and not as a soiled dove or sentimental plaything. The player was the actress who performed this part. She was new to the stage, and little was known of her, but it was whispered that she had something in common with the character she personated. Her success had been instantaneous: her photograph was in the shop windows, it had been reproduced in the illustrated papers, she had sat to famous artists, and her portrait in oils was on the line at Burlington House.
The play was the latest work of the Scandinavian dramatist, the actress was Glory Quayle.
At nine o’clock on the morning of Derby Day Glory was waiting in the drawing-room of the Garden House, dressed in a magnificent outdoor costume of pale gray which seemed to wave like a ripe hayfield. She looked paler and more nervous than before, and sometimes she glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece and sometimes looked away in the distance before her while she drew on her long white gloves and buttoned them. Rosa Macquarrie came upstairs hurriedly. She was smartly dressed in black with red roses and looked bright and brisk and happy.
“He has sent Benson with the carriage to ask us to drive down,” said Rosa. “Must have some engagement surely. Let us be off, dear. No time to lose.”
“Shall I go, I wonder?” said Glory, with a strange gravity.
“Indeed yes, dear. Why not? You’ve not been in good spirits lately, and it will do you good. Besides, you deserve a holiday after a six months’ season. And then it’s such a great day forhim, too——”
“Very well, I’ll go,” said Glory, and at that moment a twitch of her nervous fingers broke a button off one of the gloves. She drew it off, threw both gloves on to a side table, took up another pair that lay there, and followed Rosa downstairs. An open carriage was waiting for them in the outer court of the inn, and ten minutes afterward they drew up in a narrow street off Whitehall under a wide archway which opened into the large and silent quadrangle leading to the principal public offices. It was the Home Office; the carriage had come for Drake.
Drake had seen changes in his life too. His father was dead and he had succeeded to the baronetcy. He had also inherited a racing establishment which the family had long upheld, and a colt which had been entered for the Derby nearly three years ago was to run in the race that day. Its name was Ellan Vannin, and it was not a favourite. Notwithstanding the change in his fortunes, Drake still held his position of private secretary to the Secretary of State, but it was understood that he was shortly to enter public life under the wing of the Government, and to stand for the first constituency that became vacant. Ministers predicted a career for him; there was nothing he might not aspire to, and hardly anything he might not do.
Parliament had adjourned in honour of the day on which the “Isthmian games” were celebrated, and the Home Secretary, as leader of the Lower House, had said that horse-racing was “a noble and distinguished sport deserving of a national holiday.” But the Minister himself, and consequently his secretary, had been compelled to put in an appearance at their office for all that. There was urgent business demanding prompt attention.
In the large green room of the Home Office overlooking the empty quadrangle, the Minister, dressed in a paddock coat, received a deputation of six clergymen. It included Archdeacon Wealthy, who served as its spokesman. In a rotund voice, strutting a step and swinging his glasses, the Archdeacon stated their case. They had come, most reluctantly and with a sense of pain and grief and humiliation, to make representations about a brother clergyman. It was the notorious Mr. Storm—”Father” Storm, for he was drawing the people into the Roman obedience. The man was bringing religion into ridicule and contempt, and it was the duty of all who loved their mother Church——
“Pardon me, Mr. Archdeacon, we have nothing to do with that,” said the Minister. “You should go to your Bishop. Surely he is the proper person——”
“We’ve been, sir,” said the Archdeacon, and then followed an explanation of the Bishop’s powerlessness. The Church provided no funds to protect a Bishop from legal proceedings in inhibiting a vicar guilty of this ridiculous kind of conduct. “But the man comes within the power of the secular authorities, sir. He is constantly inciting people to assemble unlawfully to the danger of the public peace.”
“Well, he is a fanatic, a lunatic, and has put out monstrous and ridiculous predictions about the destruction of London, causing disorderly crowds to assemble about his church. The thoroughfares are blocked, and people are pushed about and assaulted. Indeed, things have come to such a pass that now—to-day——”
“Pardon me again, Mr. Archdeacon, but this seems to be a simple matter for the police. Why didn’t you go to the Commissioner at Scotland Yard?”
“We did, sir, but he said—you will hardly believe it, but he actually affirmed—that as the man had been guilty of no overt act of sedition——”
“Precisely—that would be my view too.”
“And are we, sir, to wait for a riot, for death, for murder, before the law can be put in motion? Is there no precedent for proceeding before anything serious—I may say alarming——”
“Well, gentlemen,” said the Minister, glancing impatiently at his watch, “I can only promise you that the matter shall have proper attention. The Commissioner shall be seen, and if a summons——”
“It is too late for that now, sir. The man is a dangerous madman and should be arrested and put under restraint.”
“I confess I don’t quite see what he has done; but if——”
The Archdeacon drew himself up. “Because a clergyman is well connected—has high official connections indeed——But surely it is better that one man should be put under control, whoever he is, than that the whole Church and nation should be endangered and disgraced.”
“Ah——H’m!——H’m! I think I’ve heard that sentiment before somewhere, Mr. Archdeacon. But I’ll not detain you now. If a warrant is necessary——” and with vague promises and plausible speeches the Minister bowed the deputation out of the room. Then he pisht and pshawed, swung a field glass across his shoulder, and prepared to leave for the day.
“Confound them! How these Christians love each other! I leave it with you, Drake. When the matter was mentioned at Downing Street the Prime Minister told us to act without regard to his interest in the young priest. If there’s likely to be a riot let the Commissioner get his warrant—Heigho! Ten-thirty! I’m off! Good-day!”
Some minutes afterward Drake himself, having written to Scotland Yard, followed his chief down the private staircase to the quadrangle, where Glory and Rosa were waiting in the carriage under the arch.
In honour of the event in which his horse was to play a part, Drake had engaged a coach to take a party of friends to the Downs. They assembled at a hotel in the Buckingham Palace Road. Lord Robert was there, dressed in the latest fashion, with boots of approved Parisian shape and a necktie of crying colours. Betty Bellman was with him, in a red and white dress and a large red hat. There was a lady in pale green with a light bonnet, another in gray and white, and another in brightest blue. They were a large, smart, and even gorgeous company, chiefly theatrical. Before eleven o’clock they were spinning along the Kennington Road on their way to Epsom.
Drake himself drove and Glory occupied the seat of honour by his side. She was looking brighter now, and was smiling and laughing and making little sallies in response to her companion’s talk. He was telling her all about the carnival. The Derby was the greatest race the world over. It was run for about six thousand sovereigns, but the total turnover of the meeting was probably a million of money. Thus on its business side alone it was a great national enterprise, and the puritans who would abolish it ought to think of that. A race-horse cost about three hundred a year to keep, but of course nobody maintained his racing establishment on his winnings. Nearly everybody had to bet, and gambling was not so great an offence as some people supposed. The whole trade of the world was of the nature of a gamble, life itself was a gamble, and the race-course was the only market in the world where no man could afford to go bankrupt, or be a defaulter and refuse to pay.
They were now going by Clapham Common with an unbroken stream of vehicles of every sort—coaches with outriders, landaus, hansom cabs, omnibuses, costers’ spring carts and barrows. Every coach carried its horn, and every horn was blown at the approach to every village. The sun was hot, and the roads were rising to the horses’ fetlocks in dust. Drake was pointing out some of their travelling companions. That large coach going by at a furious gallop was the coach of the Army and Navy Club; that barouche with its pair of grays and its postilion belonged to a well-known wine merchant; that carriage with its couple of leaders worth hundreds apiece was the property of a prosperous publican; that was the coach which usually ran between Northumberland Avenue and Virginia Water, and its seats were let out at so much apiece, usually to clerks who practised innocent frauds to escape from the city; those soldiers on the omnibus were from Wellington Barracks on “Derby leave”; and those jolly tars with their sweethearts, packed like herrings in a car, were the only true sportsmen on the road and probably hadn’t the price of a glass of rum on any race of the day. Going by road to the Derby was almost a thing of the past; smart people didn’t often do it, but it was the best fun anyway, and many an old sport tooled his team on the road still.
Glory grew brighter at every mile they covered. Everything pleased or amused or astonished her. With the charm born of a vivid interest in life she radiated happiness over all the company. Some glimpses of the country girl came back, her soul thrilled to the beauty of the world around, and she cried out like a child at sight of the chestnut and red hawthorn, and at the scent of spring with which the air was laden. From time to time she was recognised on the road, people raised their hats to her, and Drake made no disguise of his beaming pride. He leaned back to Rosa, who was sitting on the seat behind, and whispered, “Like herself to-day, isn’t she?”
“Why shouldn’t she be? With all the world at her feet and her future on the knees of the gods!” said Rosa.
But a shade of sadness came over Glory’s face, as if the gay world and its amusements had not altogether filled a void that was left somewhere in her heart. They were drawing up to water the horses at the old “Cock” at Sutton, and a brown-faced woman with big silver earrings and a monster hat and feather came up to the coach to tell the “quality” their fortunes.
“Oh, let us, Glo,” cried Betty. “I’d love it of all things, doncher know.”
The gipsy had held out her hand to Glory. “Let me look at your palm, pretty lady.”
“Am I to cross it with silver first?”
“Thank you kindly! But must I tell you the truth, lady?”
“Why yes, mother. Why not?”
“Then you’re going to lose money to-day, lady; but never mind, you shall be fortunate in the end, and the one you love shall be yours.”
“That’s all right,” cried the gentlemen in chorus. The ladies tittered, and Glory turned to Drake and said, “A pair of gloves against Ellan Vannin.”
“Done,” said Drake, and there was general laughter.
The gipsy still held Glory’s hand, and looking up at Drake out of the corner of her eyes, she said: “I won’t tell you what colour he is, pretty lady, but he is young and tall, and, though he is a gorgio, he is the kind a Romany girl would die for. Much trouble you’ll have with him, and because of his foolishness and your own unkindness you’ll put seven score miles between you. You like to live your life, lady, and as men drown their sorrows in drink, so do you drown yours in pleasure. But it will all come right at last, lady, and those who envy and hate you now will kiss the ground you walk on.”
“Glo,” said Betty, “I’m surprised at ye, dearest, listenin’ to such clipperty clapper.”
Glory did not recover her composure after this incident until they came near the Downs. Meantime the grooms had blown their horns at many villages hidden in the verdure of charming hollows, and the coaches had overtaken the people who had left London earlier in the day to make the journey afoot. Boy tramps, looking tired already—”Wish ye luck, gentlemen”; fat sailors and mutilated colliers playing organs—’Twas in Trafalgar Bay, and Come Whoam to thee Childer and Me; tatterdemalions selling the C’rect Card-“on’y fourpence, and I’ve slep’ out on the Downs last night, s’elp me”—and all the ragged army of the maimed and the miserable who hang on the edge of a carnival.
Among this wreckage, as they skimmed over it on the coach, there was one figure more grotesque than the rest, a Polish Jew in his long kaftan and his worn Sabbath hat, going along alone, triddle-traddle, in his slippers without heels. Lord Robert was at the moment teasing Betty into a pet by christening her “The Elephant,” in allusion to her stoutness. But somebody called his attention to the Jew, and he screwed his glass to his eye and cried, “Father Storm, by Jove!”
The nickname was taken up by other people on the coach, and also by people on other coaches, and “Father Storm!” was thrown at the poor scarecrow as a missile from twenty quarters at once. Glory’s colour was rising to her ears, and Drake was humming a tune to cover her confusion. But Betty was asking, “Who was Father Storm, if you please?” and Lord Robert was saying, “Bless my stars, this is something new, don’t you know! Here’s somebody who doesn’t know Father Storm! Father Storm, my dear Elephant, is the prophet, the modern Jonah, who predicts that Nineveh—that is to say, London—is to be destroyed this very day!”
“He must be balmy!” said Betty, and the lady in blue went into fits of laughter.
“Yes,” said Lord Robert, “and all because wicked men like ourselves insist on enjoying ourselves on a day like this with pretty people like you.”
“Well, he is a cough-drop!” said Betty. The lady in blue asked what was “balmy” and a “cough-drop,” and Lord Robert said:
“Betty means that the good Father is crazy—silly—stupid—cracked in the head in short——”
But Glory could bear no more. It was an insult to John Storm to be sat upon in judgment by such a woman. With a fiery jet of temper she turned about and said, “Pity there are not more heads cracked, then, if it would only let a little of the light of heaven into them.”
“Oh, if it’s like that——” began Betty, looking round significantly, and Lord Robert said, “It is like that, dear Elephant, and if our charming hurricane will pardon me, I’m not surprised that the man has broken out as a Messiah, and if the authorities don’t intervene——”
“Hold your tongue, Robert!” cried Drake. “Listen, everybody!”
They were climbing on to the Downs and could hear the deep hum of the people on the course. “My!” said Betty. “Well!” said the lady in blue. “It’s like a beehive with the lid off,” said Glory.
As they passed the railway station the people who had come by train poured into the road and the coach had to slow down. “They must have come from the four winds of heaven,” said Glory.
“Wait, only wait!” said Drake.
Some minutes afterward everybody drew breath. They were on the top of the common and had a full view of the course. It was a vast sea of human beings stretched as far as the eye could reach—a black moving ocean without a glimpse of soil or grass. The race track itself was a river of people: the Grand Stand, tier on tier, was black from its lawns at the bottom to its sloping gallery on top; and the “Hill” opposite was a rocky coast of carriages, booths, carts, and clustering crowds. Glory’s eyes seemed to leap out of her head. “It’s a nation!” she said with panting breath. “An empire!”
They were diving into these breaking, plashing, plunging waters of human life with their multitudinous voices of laughter and speech, and Glory was looking at a dark figure in the hollow below which seemed to stand up above the rest, when Drake cried:
“Sit hard, everybody! We’ll take the hill at a gallop.”
Then to the crack of the whip, the whoop of the driver, and the blast of the horn, the horses flew down like the wind. Betty screamed, Rosa groaned, and Glory laughed and looked up at Drake in her delight. When the coach drew up on the other side of the hollow, the bell was ringing at the Grand Stand as signal for another race, and the dark figure had disappeared.
That morning, when John Storm went to take seven-o’clock celebration, the knocker-up with his long stick had not yet finished his rounds in the courts and alleys about the church, but the costers with their barrows and donkeys, their wives and their children, were making an early start for Epsom. There were many communicants, and it was eight o’clock before he returned to his rooms. By that time the postman had made his first delivery and there was a letter from the Prime Minister. “Come to Downing Street as soon as this reaches you. I must see you immediately.”
He ate his breakfast of milk and brown bread, said “Good-bye, Brother Andrew, I shall be back for evening service,” whistled to the dog, and set out into the streets. But a sort of superstitious fear had taken hold of him, as if an event of supreme importance in his life was impending, and before answering his uncle’s summons he made a round of the buildings in the vicinity which were devoted to the work of his mission. His first visit was to the school. The children had assembled, and they were being marshalled in order by the Sisters and prepared for their hymn and prayer.
Many of them had presents for him—one a flower, another a biscuit, another a marble, and yet another an old Christmas card. “God bless them, and protect them!” he thought, and he left the school with a full heart.
His last visit was to the men’s shelter which he had established under the management of his former “organ man,” Mr. Jupe. It was a bare place, a shed which had been a stable and was now floored and ceiled. Beds resembling the bunks in the foc’s’le of a ship lined the walls. When these were full the lodgers lay on the ground. A blanket only was provided. The men slept in their clothes, but rolled up their coats for pillows. There was a stove where they might cook their food if they had money to buy any. A ha’p’orth of tea and sugar mixed, a ha’p’orth of bread, and a ha’p’orth of butter made a royal feast.
Going through the square in which his church stood he passed a smart gig at the door of a public-house that occupied the corner of a street. The publican in holiday clothes was stepping up to the driver’s seat, and a young soldier, smoking a cigarette, was taking the place by his side. “Morning, Father, can you tip us the winner?” said the publican with a grin, while the soldier, with an impudent smile, cried “Ta-ta” over his shoulder to the second story of a tenement house, where a young woman with a bloated and serious face and a head mopped up in curl-papers was looking down from an open window.
It was nine o’clock when John Storm reached the Prime Minister’s house. A small crowd of people had followed him to the door. “His lordship is waiting for you in the garden, sir,” said the footman, and John was conducted to the back.
In a shady little inclosure between Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade the Prime Minister was pacing to and fro. His head was bent, his step was heavy, he looked harassed and depressed. At sight of John’s monkish habit he started with surprise and faltered uneasily. But presently, sitting by John’s side on a seat under a tree, and keeping his eyes away from him, he resumed their old relations and said:
“I sent for you, my boy, to warn you and counsel you. You must give up this crusade. It is a public danger, and God knows what harm may come of it! Don’t suppose I do not sympathize with you. I do—to a certain extent. And don’t think I charge you with all the follies of this ridiculous distemper. I have followed you and watched you, and I know that ninety-nine hundredths of this madness is not yours. But in the eye of the public you are responsible for the whole of it, and that is the way of the world always. Enthusiasm is a good thing, my boy; it is the rainbow in the heaven of youth, but it may go too far. It may be hurtful to the man who nourishes it and dangerous to society. The world classes it with lunacy and love and so forth among the nervous accidents of life; and the humdrum healthy-minded herd always call that man a fool and a weakling or else a fanatic and a madman, in whom the grand errors of human nature are due to an effort—may I not say, a vain effort?—to live up to a great ideal.” There were nervous twitchings over the muscles of John’s face. “Come, now, come, for the sake of peace and tranquillity, lest there should be disorder and even death, let this matter rest. Think, my boy, think, we are as much concerned for the world’s welfare as you can be, and we have higher claims and heavier responsibilities. I can not raise a hand to help you, John. In the nature of things I can not defend you. I sent for you because—because you are your mother’s son. Don’t cast on me a heavier burden than I can bear. Save yourself and spare me.”
“What do you wish me to do, uncle?”
“Leave London immediately and stay away until this tumult has settled down.”
“Ah, that is impossible, sir.”
“Quite impossible, and though I did not make these predictions about the destruction of London, yet I believe we are on the eve of a great change.”
“Yes, and if you had not sent for me I should have called on you, to ask you to set aside a day for public prayer that God may in his mercy avert the calamity that is coming or direct it to the salvation of his servants. The morality of the nation is on the decline, uncle, and when morality is lacking the end is not far off. England is given up to idleness, pomp, dissolute practices, and pleasure—pleasure, always pleasure. The vice of intemperance, the mania for gambling, these are the vultures that are consuming the vitals of our people. Look at the luxury of the country—a ludicrous travesty of national greatness! Look at the tastes and habits of our age—the deadliest enemies of true religion! And then look at the price we are paying in what the devil calls ‘the priestesses of society’ for the tranquillity of the demon of lust!”
“But my boy, my dear boy——”
“Oh, yes, uncle, yes, I know, I know, many humanitarian schemes are afloat and we think we are not indifferent to the condition of the poor. But contrast the toiling women of East London with the idlers of Hyde Park in a London season. Other nations have professed well with their lips while their hearts have been set on wealth and pleasure. And they have fallen! Yes, sir, in ancient Asia as well as in modern Europe they have always fallen. And unless we unglue ourselves from the vanities which imperil our existence we shall fall too. The lust of pleasure and the lust of wealth bring their own revenges. In the nation as well as the individual the Almighty destroys them as of old.”
“Then how can I hold my peace or run away while it is the duty of Christians, of patriots, to cry out against this danger? On the soul of every one of us the duty rests, and who am I that I should escape from it? Oh, if the Church only realized her responsibility, if she only kept her eyes open——”
“She has powerful reasons for keeping them closed, my son,” said the Minister, “and always will have until the Establishment is done away with. It is coming to that some day, but meantime have a care. The clergy are not your friends, John. Statesmen know too well the clerical cruelty which shelters itself behind the secular arm. It is an old story, I think, and you may find instances of that also in your ancient Palestine. But beware, my boy, beware——”
“‘Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. Ye know that it hated me before it hated you.'”
The exaltation of John’s manner was increasing, and again the Prime Minister became uneasy, as if fearing that the young monk by his side would ask him next to kneel and pray.
“Ah, well,” he said, rising, “I suppose there is no help for it, and matters must take their own course.” Then he broke into other subjects, talked of his brother, John’s father, whom he had lately heard from. His health was failing, he could not last very long; a letter from his son now might make all things well.
John was silent, his head was down, but the Prime Minister could see that his words took no effect. Then his bleak old face smiled a wintry smile as he said:
“But you are not mending much in one way, my boy. Do you know you’ve never once been here since the day you came to tell me you were to be married, and intended to follow in the footsteps of Father Damien?”
John flinched, and the muscles of his face twitched nervously again.
“That was an impossible enterprise, John. No wonder the lady couldn’t suffer you to follow it. But she might have allowed you to see a lonely old kinsman for all that.” John’s pale face was breaking, and his breath was coming fast. “Well, well,” taking his arm, “I’m not reproaching you, John. There are passions of the soul which eat up all the rest, I know that quite well, and when a man is under the sway of them he has neither father nor uncle, neither kith nor kin. Good-bye! … Ah, this way out—this way.”
The footman had stepped up to the Minister and whispered something about a crowd in front of the house, and John was passed out of the garden by the back door into the park.
Three hours afterward the frequenters of Epsom racecourse saw a man in a black cassock get up into an unoccupied wagonette and make ready to speak. He was on the breast of “The Hill,” directly facing the Grand Stand, in a close pack of carriages, four-in-hands, landaus, and hansoms, filled with gaily dressed women in pink and yellow costumes, drinking champagne and eating sandwiches, and being waited upon by footmen in livery. It was the interval between two events of the race meeting, and beyond the labyrinth of vehicles there was a line of betting men in outer garments of blue silk and green alpaca, standing on stools under huge umbrellas and calling the odds to motley crowds of sweltering people on foot.
“Men and women,” he began, and five thousand faces seemed to rise at the sound of his voice. The bookmakers kept up their nasal cries of “I lay on the field!” “Five to-one bar one!” But the crowd turned and deserted them. “It’s the Father,” “Father Storm,” the people said, with laughter and chuckling, loose jests and some swearing, but they came up to him with one accord until the space about, him, as far as to the roadway by which carriages climbed the hill, was an unbroken pavement of rippling faces.
“Good old Father!” and then laughter. “What abart the end of the world, old gel?” and then references to “the petticoats” and more laughter. “‘Ere, I’ll ‘ave five bob each way, Resurrection,” and shrieks of wilder laughter still.
The preacher stood for some moments silent and unshaken. Then the quiet dignity of the man and the love of fair play in the crowd secured him a hearing. He began amid general silence:
“I don’t know if it is contrary to regulations to stand here to speak, but I am risking that for the urgency of the hour and message. Men and women, you are here under false pretences. You pretend to yourselves and to each other that you have come out of a love of sport, but you have not done so, and you know it. Sport is a plausible pleasure; to love horses and take delight in their fleetness is a pardonable vanity, but you are here to practise an unpardonable vice. You have come to gamble, and your gambling is attended by every form of intemperance and immorality. I am not afraid to tell you so, for God has laid upon me a plain message, and I intend to do my duty. These race-courses are not for horse-racing, but for reservoirs of avarice and drunkenness and prostitution. Don’t think”—he was looking straight into the painted faces of the women in pink and yellow, who were trying to smile and look amused—”don’t think I am going to abuse the unhappy girls who are forced by a corrupt civilization to live by their looks. They are my friends, and half my own life is spent among them. I have known some of them in whose hearts dwelt heavenly purity, and when I think of what they have suffered from men I feel ashamed that I am a man. But, my sisters, for you, too, I have an urgent message. It is full summer with you now, as you sit here in your gay clothes on this bright day; but the winter is coming for every one of you, when there will be no more sunshine, no more luxury and pleasure and flattery, and when the miry wallowers in troughs and stys, who are now taking the best years of your lives from you——”
“Helloa there! Whoop! Tarara-ra-ra-rara!”
A four-in-hand coach was dashing headlong up the hill amid clouds of dust, the rattling of wheels, the shouts of the driver and the blasts of the horn, and the people who covered the roadway were surging forward to make room for it.
“It’s Gloria!” said everybody, looking up at the occupants of the coach and recognising one of them.
The spell of the preacher was broken. He paused and turned his head and saw Glory. She was sitting tall and bright and gay on the box-seat by the side of Drake; the rays of the sun were on her and she was smiling up into his face.
The preacher began again, then faltered, and then stopped. A bell at the Grand Stand was ringing. “Numbers goin’ up,” said everybody, and before any one could be conscious of what was happening, John Storm was only a cipher in the throng, and the crowd was melting away.
The great carnival completely restored Glory’s spirits. She laughed and cried out constantly and lived from minute to minute like a child. Everybody recognised her and nearly everybody saluted her. Drake beamed with pride and delight. He took her about the course, answered her questions, punctuated her jests, and explained everything, leaving Lord Robert to entertain his guests. Who were “those dwellers in tents”? They were the Guards’ Club, and the service was also represented by artillery men, king’s hussars, and a line regiment from Aldershot. This was called “The Hill,” where jovial rascaldom, usually swarmed, looking out for stray overcoats and the lids of luncheon dishes left unprotected on carriages. Yes, the pickpocket, the card-sharper, the “lumberer,” the confidence man, the blarneying beggar, and the fakir of every description laid his snares on this holy spot. In fact, this is his Sanctuary and he peddles under the eye of the police. “Holy Land?” Ha, ha! “All the patriarchs out of the Bible here?” Oh, the vociferous gentlemen with patriarchal names in velveteen coats under the banners and canvas sign-boards—Moses, Aaron, and so forth? They were the “bookies,” otherwise bookmakers, generally Jews and sometimes Welshers.
“Here, come along, some of you sportsmen! I ain’t made the price of my railway fare, s’elp me!” “It’s a dead cert, gents.” “Can’t afford to buy thick ‘uns at four quid apiece!” “Five to one on the field!” “I lay on the field!”
A “thick un?” Oh, that was a sovereign, half a thick un half a sovereign, twenty-five pounds a “pony,” five hundred a “monkey,” flash notes were “stumers,” and a bookmaker who couldn’t pay was “a Welsher.” That? That was “the great Brockton,” gentleman and tipster. “Amusement enough!” Yes, niggers, harpists, Christy Minstrels, strong men, acrobats, agile clowns and girls on stilts, and all the ragamuffins from “the Burrer,” bent on “making a bit.” African Jungle? A shooting gallery with model lions and bears. Fine Art Exhibition? A picture of the hanging of recent murderers. Boxing Ring? Yes, for women—they strip to the waist and fight like fiends. Then look at the lady auctioneer selling brass sovereigns a penny apiece.
“Buy one, gentlemen, and see what they’re like, so as the ‘bookies’ can’t pawse ‘em on ye unawares!”
“Food enough!” Yes, at Margett’s, Patton’s, Hatton’s, and “The Three Brooms,” as well as the barrows for stewed eels, hard-boiled eggs, trotters, coker-nuts, winkles, oysters, cockles, and all the luxuries of the New Cut. Why were they calling that dog “Cookshop”? Because he was pretty sure to go there in the end.
By this time they had ploughed over some quarter of a mile of the hillside, fighting their way among the carriages that stood six deep along the rails and through a seething mass of ruffianism, in a stifling atmosphere polluted by the smell of ale and the reeking breath of tipsy people.
“Whoo! I feel like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rolled into one,” said Glory.
“Let us go into the Paddock,” said Drake, and they began to cross the race track.
“But wasn’t that somebody preaching as we galloped down the hill?”
“Was it? I didn’t notice,” and they struggled through.
It was fresh and cool under the trees, and Glory thought it cheap even at ten shillings a head to walk for ten minutes on green grass. Horses waiting for their race were being walked about in clothes with their names worked on the quarter sheets, and breeders, trainers, jockeys, and clerks of the course mingled with gentlemen in silk hats and ladies in smart costumes.
Drake’s horse was a big bay colt, very thin, almost gaunt, and with long, high-stepping legs. The trainer was waiting for a last word with his owner. He was cool and confident. “Never better or fitter, Sir Francis, and one of the grandest three-year-olds that ever looked through a bridle. Improved wonderful since he got over his dental troubles, and does justice to the contents of his manger. Capital field, sir, but it’s got to run up against summat smart to-day. Favourite, sir? Pooh! A coach horse! Not stripping well—light in the flank and tucked up. But this colt fills the eye as a first-class one should. Whatever beats him will win, sir, take my word for that.”
And the jockey, standing by in his black-and-white-jacket, wagged his head and said in a cheery whisper: “Have what ye like on ‘im, Sir Francis. Great horse, sir! Got a Derby in ‘im or I’m a Slowcome.”
Drake laughed at their predictions, and Glory patted the creature while it beat its white feet on the ground and the leather of its saddle squeaked. The club stand from there? looked like a sea of foaming laces, feathers, flowers, and sunshades. They turned to go to it, passing first by the judge’s box, whereof Drake explained the use, then through the Jockey Club inclosure, which was full of peers, peeresses, judges, members of Parliament, and other turfites, and finally through the betting ring where some hundreds of betting men of the superior class proclaimed their calling in loud voices and loud clothes and the gold letters on their betting books. To one of these pencillers Drake said:
“What’s the figure for Ellan Vannin?”
“Ten to one, market price, sir.”
“I’ll take you in hundreds,” said Drake, and they struggled through the throng.
Going up the stairs Glory said: “But wasn’t the Archdeacon at your office this morning? We saw him coming out of the square with Mr. Golightly.”
“Oh, did you? How hot it is to-day!”
“Isn’t it? I feel as if I should like to play Ariel in gossamer—But wasn’t it?”
“You needn’t trouble about that, Glory. It’s an old, story that religious intolerance likes to throw the responsibility of its acts on the civil government.”
“Then John Storm——”
“He is in no danger yet—none whatever.”
“Oh, how glorious!” They had reached the balcony, and Glory was pretending that the change in her voice and manner came of delight at the sudden view. She stood for a moment spellbound, and then leaned over the rail and looked through the dazzling haze that was rising from the vast crowd below. Not a foot of turf was to be seen for a mile around, save where at the jockeys’ gate a space was kept clear by the police. It was a moving mass of humanity, and a low, indistinguishable murmur was coming up from it such as the sea makes on the headlands above.
The cloud had died off Glory’s face and her eyes were sparkling. “What a wonderfully happy world it must be, after all!” she said.
Just then the standard was hoisted over the royal stand to indicate that the Prince had arrived. Immediately afterward there was a silent movement of hats on the lawns below the boxes, and then somebody down there began to sing God save the Queen. The people on the Grand Stand took up the chorus, then the people on the course joined in, then the people on “The Hill,” until finally the whole multitude sang the national hymn in a voice that was like the voice of an ocean.
Glory’s eyes were now full of tears, she was struggling with a desire to cry aloud, and Drake, who was watching her smallest action, stood before her to screen her from the glances of gorgeously attired ladies who were giggling and looking through lorgnettes. The fine flower of the aristocracy was present in force, and the club stand was full of the great ladies who took an interest in sport and even kept studs of their own. Oriental potentates were among them in suits of blue and gold, and the French language was being spoken on all sides.
Glory attracted attention and Drake’s face beamed with delight. An illustrious personage asked to be introduced to her, and said he had seen her first performance and predicted her extraordinary success. She did not flinch. There was a slight tremor, a scarcely perceptible twitching of the lip, and then she bore her honours as if she had been born to them. The Prince entertained a party to luncheon, and Drake and Glory were invited to join it. All the smart people were there, and they looked like a horticultural exhibition of cream colour and rose pink and gray. Glory kept watching the great ones of the earth, and she found them very amusing.
“Well, what do you think?” said Drake.
“I think most people at the Derby must have the wrong make-up on. That gentleman, now—he ought to be done up as a stable-boy. And that lady in mauve—she’s a ballet girl really, only——”
“Hush, for Heaven’s sake!” But Glory whispered, “Let’s go round the corner and laugh.”
She sat between Drake and a ponderous gentleman with a great beard like a waterfall.
“What are the odds against the colt, Drake?”
Drake answered, and Glory recalled herself from her studies and said, “Oh, yes, what did you say it was?”
“A prohibitive price—for you.” said Drake.
“Nonsense! I’m going to do a flutter on my own, you know, and plunge against you.”
It was explained to her that only bookmakers bet against horses, but the gentleman with the beard volunteered to reverse positions, and take Glory’s ten to one against Ellan Vannin.
“Oh—h’m—in thick ‘uns, of course.”
“But what is the meaning of this running after strange gods?” said Drake.
“Never mind, sir! Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, you know——” and then the bell rang for the race of the day, and they scurried back to the Stand. The numbers were going up and a line of fifty policemen abreast were clearing the course. Some of the party had come over from the coach, and Lord Robert was jotting down in a notebook the particulars of betting commissions for his fair companions.
“And am I to be honoured with a commission from the Hurricane?” he asked.
“Yes; what’s the price for Ellan Vannin?”
“Come down to five to one, pretty lady.”
“Get me one to five that he’s going to lose.”
“But what in the world are you doing, Glory?” said Drake. His eyes were dancing with delight.
“Running a race with that old man in the box which can find a loser first.”
At that moment the horses were sent out for the preliminary canter and parade before the royal stand, and a tingling electrical atmosphere seemed to come from somewhere and set every tongue wagging. It seemed as if something unexpected was about to occur, and countless eyes went up to the place where Drake stood with Glory by his side. He was outwardly calm, but with a proud flush under his pallor; she was visibly excited, and could not stand on the same spot for many seconds together. By this time the noise made by the bookmakers in the inclosure below was like that of ten thousand sea fowl on a reef of rock, and Glory was trying to speak above the deafening clangour.
“Silver and gold have I none, but if I had—what’s that?”
A white flag had fallen as signal for the start, there was a hollow roar from the starting post, and people were shouting, “They’re off!” Then there was a sudden silence, a dead hush—below, above, around, everywhere, and all eyes, all glasses, all lorgnettes were turned in the direction of the runners.
The horses got well away and raced up the hill like cavalry charging in line; then at the mile post the favourite drew to the front, and the others went after him in an indistinguishable mass. But the descent seemed not to his liking; he twisted a good deal, and the jockey was seen sawing the reins and almost hanging over the horse’s head. When the racers swung round Tattenham Corner and came up like mice in the distance, it was seen that another horse had taken advantage of an opening and was overhauling the favourite with a tremendous rush. His colours were white and black. It was Ellan Vannin. From that moment Drake’s horse never relinquished his advantage, but came down the straight like a great bird with his wings ceasing to flap, passed the Stand amid great excitement, and won handsomely by a length.
Then in the roar of delight that went up from the crowd Glory, with her hand on Drake’s shoulder, was seen to be crying, laughing, and cheering at the same moment.
“But you’ve lost,” said Drake.
“Oh, bother that!” she said, and when the jockey had slipped from his saddle, and Drake had taken his horse into the weighing-room and the “All right!” was shouted, she started the cheering again and said she meant to make a dead heat of it with Tennyson’s brook.
“But why did you bet against me?” said Drake.
“You silly boy,” she answered with a crow of happiness and gaiety, “didn’t the gipsy tell me I should lose money to-day? And how could I bet on your horse unless you lost the race?”
Drake laughed merrily at her delicious duplicity and could hardly resist an impulse to take her in his arms and kiss her. Meantime his friends were slapping him on the back and people were crushing up to offer him congratulations. He turned to take his horse into the Paddock, and Lord Robert took Glory down after him. The trainer and jockey were there, looking proud and happy, and Drake, with a pale and triumphant face, was walking the great creature about as if reluctant to part with it. It was breathing heavily, and sweat stood in drops on its throat, head, and ears.
“Oh, you beauty! How I should love to ride you!” said Glory.
“But dare you?” said Drake.
“Dare I! Only give me the chance.”
“I will, by——I will, or it won’t be my fault.”
Somebody brought champagne and Glory had to drink a bumper to “the best horse of the century, bar none.” Then her glass was filled afresh and she had to drink to the owner, “the best fellow on earth, bar none,” and again she was compelled to drink “to the best bit of history ever made at Epsom, bar none.” With that she was excused while the men drank at Drake’s proposal “to the loveliest, liveliest, leeriest little woman in the world, God bless her!” and she hid her face in her hands and said with a merry laugh:
“Tell me when it’s over, boys, and I’ll come again.”
After Drake had despatched telegrams and been bombarded by interviewers, he led the way back to the coach on the Hill, and the company prepared for their return. The sun had now gone, a thick veil of stagnant clouds had gathered over it, the sky looked sulky, and Glory’s head tad begun to ache between the eyes. Rosa was to go home by train in order to reach her office early, and Glory half wished to accompany her. But an understudy was to play her part that night and she had no excuse. The coach wormed its way through the close pack of vehicles at the top of the Hill and began to follow the ebbing tide of humanity back to London.
“But what about my pair of gloves?”
“Oh, you’re a hard man, reaping where you have not sowed and gathering——”
“There, then, we’re quits,” said Drake, leaning over from the box seat and snatching a kiss of her. It was now clear that he had been drinking a good deal.
Before the race had been run, a solitary man with a dog at his heels had crossed the Downs on his way back to the railway station. Jealousy and rage possessed his heart between them, but he would not recognise these passions; he believed his emotions to be horror and pity and shame. John Storm had seen Glory on the race-course, in Drake’s company, under Drake’s protection: he proud and triumphant, she bright and gay and happy.
“O Lord, help me! Help me, O Lord!”
“And now, dragging along the road, in his mind’s eye he saw her again as the victim of this man, his plaything, his pastime to takeup or leave—no better than any of the women about her, and where they were going she would go also. Some day he would find her where he had found others—outcast, deserted, forlorn, lost; down in the trough of life, a thing of loathing and contempt!
“O Lord, help her! Help her, O Lord!”
There were few passengers by the train going back to London, nearly all traffic at this hour being the other way, and there was no one else in the compartment he occupied. He threw himself down in a corner, consumed with indignation and a strange sense of dishonour. Again he saw her bright eyes, her red lips—the glow of her whole radiant face and a paroxysm of jealousy tore his heart to pieces. Glory was his. Though a bottomless abyss was yawning between them, her soul belonged to him, and a great upheaval of hatred for the man who possessed her body surged up to his throat. Against all this his pride as well as his religion rebelled. He crushed it down, and tried to turn his mind to another current of ideas. How could he save her? If she should go down to perdition, his remorse would be worse to bear than flames of fire and brimstone. The more unworthy she was, the more reason he should strive to rescue her soul from the pangs of eternal torment.
The rattling of the carriage broke in upon these visions, and he got up and paced to and fro like a bear in a cage. And, like a bear with its slow, strong grip, he seemed to be holding her in his wrath and saying: “You shall not destroy yourself; you shall not, you shall not, for I, I, I forbid it!” Then he sank back in his seat, exhausted by the conflict which made his soul a battlefield of spiritual and sensual passions. Every limb shook and quivered. He began to be afraid of himself, and he felt an impulse to fly away somewhere. When he alighted at Victoria his teeth were chattering, although the atmosphere was stifling and the sky was now heavy with black and lowering clouds.
To avoid the eyes of the people who usually followed him in the streets, he cut through a narrow thoroughfare and went back to Brown’s Square by way of the park. But the park was like a vast camp. Thousands of people seemed to cover the grass as far as the eye could reach, and droves of workmen, followed by their wives and children, were trudging to other open spaces farther out. It was the panic terror. Afterward it was calculated that fifty thousand persons from all parts of London had quitted the doomed city that day to await the expected catastrophe under the open sky.
The look of fierce passion had faded from his face by the time he reached his church, but there another ordeal awaited him. Though it still wanted an hour of the time of evening service a great crowd had gathered in the square. He tried to escape observation, but the people pressed upon him, some to shake his hand, others to touch his cassock, and many to kneel at his feet and even to cover them with kisses. With a sense of shame and hypocrisy he disengaged himself at length, and joined Brother Andrew in the sacristy. The simple fellow was full of marvellous stories. There had been wondrous manifestations of the workings of the Holy Spirit during the day. The knocker-up, who was a lame man, had shaken hands with the Father on his way home that morning, and now he had thrown away his stick and was walking firmly and praising God.
The church was large and rectangular and plain, and looked a well-used edifice, open every day and all day. The congregation was visibly excited, but the service appeared to calm them. The ritual was full, with procession and incense, but without vestments, and otherwise monastic in its severity. John Storm preached. The epistle for the day had been from First Corinthians, and he took his text from that source also: “Deliver him up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
People said afterward that they had never heard anything like that sermon. It was delivered in a voice that was low and tremulous with emotion. The subject was love. Love was the first inheritance that God had given to his creatures—the purest and highest, the sweetest and best. But man had degraded and debased it, at the temptation of Satan and the lust of the world. The expulsion of our first parents from Eden was only the poetic figure of what had happened through all the ages. It was happening now—and London, the modern Sodom, would as surely pay its penalty as did the cities of the ancient East. No need to think of flood or fire or tempest—of any given day or hour. The judgment that would fall on England, like the plagues that fell on Egypt, would be of a kind with the offence. She had wronged the spirit of love, and who knows but God would punish her by taking out of the family of man the passion by which she fell, lifting it away with all that pertained to it—good and bad, spiritual and sensual, holy and corrupt?
The burning heat clouds of the day seemed to have descended into the church, and in the gathering darkness the preacher, his face just visible, with its eyes full of smouldering fire, drew an awful picture of the world under the effects of such a curse. A place without unselfishness, without self-sacrifice, without heroism, without chivalry, without loyalty, without laughter, and without children! Every man standing alone, isolated, self-centred, self-cursed, outlawed, loveless, marriageless, going headlong to degeneracy and death! Such might be God’s punishment on this cruel and wicked city for its sensual sins.
Then the preacher lost control of his imagination and swept his hearers along with him as he fabricated horrible fancies. The people were terror-stricken, and not until the last hymn was given out did they recover the colour of their blanched faces. Then they sang as with one voice, and after the benediction had been pronounced and they were surging down the aisles in close packs, they started the hymn again.
Even when they had left the church they could not disperse. Out in the square were the thousands who had not been able to get inside the doors, and every moment the vast proportions of the crowd were swelled. The ground was covered, the windows round about were thrown up and full of faces, and people had clambered on to the railings of the church, and even on to the roofs of the houses.
Somebody went to the sacristy and told the Father what was happening outside. He was now like a man beside himself, and going out on to the steps of the church where he could be seen by all, he lifted his hands and pronounced a prayer in a sonorous and fervent voice:
“How long, O Lord, how long? From the bosom of God, where thou reposest, look down on the world where thou didst walk as a man. Didst thou not teach us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’? Didst thou not say thy kingdom was near; that some who stood with thee should not taste of death till they had seen it come with power; that when it came the poor should be blessed, the hungry should be fed, the blind should see, the heavy-laden should find rest, and the will of thy Father should be done on earth even as it is done in heaven? But nigh upon two thousand years lave gone, O Lord, and thy kingdom hath not come. In thy name now doth the Pharisee give alms in the streets to the sound of a trumpet going before him. In thy name now doth the Levite pass by on the other side when a man has fallen among thieves. In thy name now doth the priest buy and sell the glad tidings of the kingdom, giving for the gospel of God the commandments of men, living in rich men’s houses, faring sumptuously every day, praying with his lips, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ but saying to his; soul: ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’ How long, O Lord, how long?”
Hardly had John Storm stepped back when the heavy clouds broke into mutterings of thunder. So low were the sounds at first that in the general tumult they were scarcely noticed; but they came again and again, louder and louder with every fresh reverberation, and then the excitement of the people became intense and terrible. It was as if the heavens themselves had spoken to give sign and assurance of the calamity that had been foretold.
First a woman began to scream as if in the pains of labour. Then a young girl cried out for mercy, and accused herself of countless and nameless offences. Then the entire crowd seemed to burst into sobs and moans and agonizing expressions of despair, mingled with shouts of wild laughter and mad thanksgiving. “Pardon, pardon!” “O Jesus, save me!” “O Saviour of sinners!” “O God, have mercy upon me!” “O my heart, my heart!” Some threw themselves on the ground, stiff and motionless and insensible as dead men. Others stood over the stricken people and prayed for their relief from the power of Satan. Others fell into convulsions, and yet others, with wild and staring eyes, rejoiced in their own salvation.
It was now almost dark and some of the people who had been out to the Derby were returning home in their gigs and coster’s carts, laughing, singing, and nearly all of them drunk. There were wild encounters. A young soldier (it was Charlie Wilkes) came upon Pincher the pawnbroker. “Wot tcher, myte? Wot’s yer amoosemint now?”
“Silence, you evil liver, you gambler, you son of Belial!”
“Stou thet now—d’ye want a kepple er black eyes or a pench on the nowze?”
At nine o’clock the police of Westminster, being unable to disperse the crowd, seat to Scotland Yard for the mounted constabulary.
Meantime the man who was the first cause of the tumult sat alone in his cell-like chamber under the church, a bare room without carpet or rug, and having no furniture except a block bed, a small washstand, two chairs, a table, a prayer stool and crucifix, and a print of the Virgin and Child. He heard the singing of the people outside, but it brought him neither inspiration nor comfort. Nature could no longer withstand the strain he had put upon it, and he was in deep dejection. It was one of those moments of revulsion which comes to the strongest soul when at the crown or near the crown of his expectations he asks himself, “What is the good?” A flood of tender recollections was coming over him. He was thinking of the past, the happy past, the past of love and innocence which he had spent with Glory, of the little green isle in the Irish Sea, and of all the sweetness of the days they had passed together before she had fallen to the temptations of the world and he had become the victim of his hard if lofty fate. Oh, why had he denied himself the joys that came to all others? To what end had he given up the rewards of life which the poorest and the weakest and the meanest of men may share? Love, woman’s love, why had he turned his back upon it? Why had he sacrificed himself? O God, if, indeed, it were all in vain!
Brother Andrew put his head in at the half-open door. His brother, the pawnbroker, was there and had something to say to the Father. Pincher’s face looked over Andrew’s shoulder. The muscles of the man’s eyes were convulsed by religious mania.
“I’ve just sold my biziness, sir, and we ‘aven’t a roof to cover us now!” he cried, in the tone of one who had done something heroic.
John asked him what was to become of his mother.
“Lor’, sir, ain’t it the beginning of the end? That’s the gawspel, ain’t it? ‘The foxes hev ‘oles and the birds of the air hev nests——'”
And then close behind the man, interrupting him and pushing him aside, there came another with fixed and staring eyes, crying: “Look ‘ere, Father! Look! Twenty years I ‘obbled on a stick, and look at me now! Praise the Lawd, I’m cured, en’ no bloomin’ errer! I’m a brand as was plucked from the burnin’ when my werry ends ‘ad caught the flames! Praise the Lawd, amen!”
John rebuked them and turned them out of the room, but he was almost in as great a frenzy. When he had shut the door his mind went back to thoughts of Glory. She, too, was hurrying to the doom that was coming on all this wicked city. He had tried to save her from it, but he had failed. What could he do now? He felt a desire to do something, something else, something extraordinary.
Sitting on the end of the bed he began again to recall Glory’s face as he had seen it at the race-course. And now it came to him as a shock after his visions of her early girlhood. He thought there was a certain vulgarity in it which, he had not observed before—a slight coarsening of its expression, an indescribable degeneracy even under the glow of its developed beauty. With her full red lips and curving throat and dancing eyes, she was smiling into the face of the man who was sitting by her side. Her smile was a significant smile, and the bright and eager look with which the man answered it was as full of meaning. He could read their thoughts. What had happened? Were all barriers broken down? Was everything understood between them?
This was the final madness, and he leaped to his feet in an outburst of uncontrollable rage. All at once he shuddered with a feeling that something terrible was brewing within him. He felt cold, a shiver was running over his whole body. But the thought he had been in search of had come to him of itself. It came first as a shock, and with a sense of indescribable dread, but it had taken hold of him and hurried him away. He had remembered his text: “Deliver him up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
“Why not?” he thought; “it is in the Holy Book itself. There is the authority of St. Paul for it. Clearly the early Christians countenanced and practised such things.” But then came a spasm of physical pain. That beautiful life, so full of love and loveliness, radiating joy and sweetness and charm! The thing was impossible! It was monstrous! “Am I going mad?” he asked himself.
And then he began to be sorry for himself as well as for Glory. How could he live in the world without her? Although he had lost her, although an impassable gulf divided them, although he had not seen her for six months until today, yet it was something to know she was alive and that he could go at night to the place where she was and look up and think, “She is there.” “It is true, I am going mad,” he thought, and he trembled again.
His mind oscillated among these conflicting ideas, until the more hideous thought returned to him of Drake and the smile exchanged with Glory. Then the blood rushed to his head, and strong emotions paralyzed his reason. When he asked himself if it was right in England and in the nineteenth century to contemplate a course which might have been proper to Palestine and the first century, the answer came instantaneously that it was right. Glory was in peril. She was tottering on the verge of hell. It would not be wrong, but a noble duty, to prevent the possibility of such a hideous catastrophe. Better a life ended than a life degraded and a soul destroyed.
On this the sophism worked. It was true that he would lose her; she would be gone from him, she who was all his joy, his vision by day, his dream by night. But could he be so selfish as to keep her in the flesh, and thus expose her soul to eternal torment? And after all she would be his in the other world, his forever, his alone. Nay, in this world also, for being dead he would love her still. “But, O God, must I do it?” he asked himself at one moment, and at the next came his answer: “Yes, yes, for I am God’s minister.”
That sent him back to his text again. “Deliver him up to Satan——” But there was a marginal reference to Timothy, and he turned it up with a trembling hand. Satan again, but the Revised Version gave “the Lord’s servant,” and thus the text should read, “Deliver him up to the Lord’s servant for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” This made him cry out. He drank it in with inebriate delight. The thing was irrevocably decided. He was justified, he was authorized, he was the instrument of a fixed purpose. No other consideration could move him now.
By this time his heart and temples were beating violently, and he felt as if he were being carried up into a burning cloud. Before his eyes rose the vision of Isaiah, the meek lamb converted into an inexorable avenger descending from the summit of Edom. It was right to shed blood at the divine command—nay, it was necessary, it was inevitable. And as God had commanded Abraham to take the life of Isaac, whom he loved, so did God call on him, John Storm, to take the life of Glory that he might save her from the risk of everlasting damnation!
There may have been intervals in which his sense of hearing left him, for it was only now that he became conscious that somebody was calling to him from the other side of the door.
“Is anybody there?” he asked, and a voice replied:
“Dear heart, yes, this five minutes and better, but I didna dare come in, thinking surely there was somebody talking with you. Is there no somebody here then? No?”
It was Mrs. Callender, who was carrying a small glad-stone bag.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?”
“Aye, it’s myself, and sorry I am to be bringing bad news to you.”
“What is it?” he asked, but his tone betrayed complete indifference.
She closed the door and answered in a whisper: “A warrant! I much misdoubt but there’s one made out for you.”
“Is that all?”
“Bless me, what does the man want? But come, laddie, come; you must tak’ yoursel’ off to some spot till the storm blows over.”
“I have work to do, auntie.”
“Work! You’ve worked too much already—that’s half the botherment.”
“God’s work, auntie, and it must be done.”
“Then God will do it himself, without asking the life of a good man, or he’s no just what I’ve been takin’ him for. But see,” opening the bag and whispering again, “your auld coat and hat! I found them in your puir auld room that you’ll no come back to. You’ve been looking like another body so long that naebody will ken you when you’re like yoursel’ again. Come, now, off with these lang, ugly things——”
“I can not go, auntie.”
“I will not. While God commands me I will do my duty.”
“Eh, but men are kittle cattle! I’ve often called you my ain son, but if I were your ain mother I ken fine what I’d do with you—I’d just slap you and mak’ you. I’ll leave the clothes, anyway. Maybe you’ll be thinking better of it when I’m gone. Good-night to you. Your puir head’s that hot and moidered—-But what’s wrang with you, John, man? What’s come over ye anyway?”
He seemed to be hardly conscious of her presence, and after standing a moment at the door, looking back at him with eyes of love and pity, she left the room.
He had been asking himself for the first time how he was to carry out his design. Sitting on the end of the bed with his head propped on his hand he felt as if he were in the hold of a great ship, listening to the plash and roar of the stormy sea outside. The excitement of the populace was now ungovernable and the air was filled with groans and cries. He would have to pass through the people, and they would see him and detain him, or perhaps follow him. His impatience was now feverish. The thing he had to do must be done to-night, it must be done immediately. But it was necessary in the first place to creep out unseen. How was he to do it?
When he came to himself he had a vague sense of some one wishing him good-night. “Oh, good-night, good-night!” he cried with an apologetic gesture. But he was alone in the room, and on turning about he saw the bag on the floor, and remembered everything. Then a strange thing happened. Two conflicting emotions took hold of him at once—the first an enthusiastic, religious ecstasy, the other a low, criminal cunning.
Everything was intended. He was only the instrument of a fixed purpose. These clothes were proof of it. They came to his hand at the very moment when they were wanted, when nothing else would have helped him. And Mrs. Callender had been the blind agent in a higher hand to carry out the divine commands. Fly away and hide himself? God did not intend it. A warrant? No matter if it sent him like Cranmer to the stake. But this was a different thing entirely, this was God’s will and purpose, this——
Yet even while thinking so he laughed an evil laugh, tore the clothes out of the bag with trembling hands, and made ready to put them on. He had removed his cassock when some one opened the door.
“Who’s there?” he cried in a husky growl.
“Only me,” said a timid voice, and Brother Andrew entered, looking pale and frightened.
“Oh, you! Come in; close the door; I’ve something to say to you. Listen! I’m going out, and I don’t know when I shall be back. Where’s the dog?”
“In the passage, brother.”
“Chain him up at the back, lest he should get out and follow me. Put this cassock away, and if anybody asks for me say you don’t know where I’ve gone—you understand?”
“Yes; but are you well, Brother Storm? You look as if you had just been running.”
There was a hand-glass on the washstand, and John snatched it up and glanced into it and put it down again instantly. His nostrils were quivering, his eyes were ablaze, and the expression of his face was shocking.
“What are they doing outside? See if I can get away without being recognised,” and Brother Andrew went out to look.
The passage from the chambers under the church was into a dark and narrow street at the back, but even there a group of people had gathered, attracted by the lights in the windows. Their voices could be heard through the door which Brother Andrew had left ajar, and John stood behind it and listened. They were talking of himself—praising him, blessing him, telling stories of his holy life and gentleness.
Brother Andrew reported that most of the people were at the front, and they were frantic with religious excitement. Women were crushing up to the rail which the Father had leaned his head upon for a moment after he had finished his prayer, in order to press their handkerchiefs and shawls on it.
“But nobody would know you now, Brother Storm—even your face is different.”
John laughed again, but he turned off the lights, thinking to drive away the few who were still lingering in the back street. The ruse succeeded. Then the man of God went out on his high errand, crept out, stole out, sneaked out, precisely as if he had been a criminal on his way to commit a crime.
He followed the lanes and narrow streets and alleys behind the Abbey, past the “Bell,” the “Boar’s Head,” and the “Queen’s Arms”—taverns that have borne the same names since the days when Westminster was Sanctuary. People home from the races were going into them with their red ties awry, with sprigs of lilac in their buttonholes; and oak leaves in their hats. The air was full of drunken singing, sounds of quarrelling, shameful words and curses. There were some mutterings of thunder and occasional flashes of lightning, and over all there was the deep hum of the crowd in the church square.
Crossing the bottom of Parliament Street he was almost run down by a squadron of mounted police who were trotting into Broad Sanctuary. To escape observation he turned on to the Embankment and walked under the walls of the gardens of Whitehall, past the back of Charing Cross station to the street going up from the Temple.
The gate of Clement’s Inn was closed, and the porter had to come out of his lodge to open it.
“The Garden House!”
“Garden House, sir? Inner court left-hand corner.”
John passed through. “That will be remembered afterward,” he thought. “But no matter—it will all be over then.”
And coming out of the close streets, with their clatter of traffic, into the cool gardens, with their odour of moistened grass, the dull glow in the sky, and the glimpse of the stars through the tree-tops, his mind went back by a sudden bound to another night, when he had walked over the same spot with Glory. At that there came a spasm of tenderness, and his throat thickened. He could almost see her, and feel her by his side, with her fragrant freshness and buoyant step. “O God! must I do it, must I, must I?” he thought again.
But another memory of that night came back to him; he heard Drake’s voice as it floated over the quiet place. Then the same upheaval of hatred which he had felt before he felt again. The man was the girl’s ruin; he had tempted her by love of dress, of fame, of the world’s vanities and follies of every sort. This made him think for the first time of how he might find her. He might find her with him. They would come back from the Derby together. He would bring her home, and they would sup in company. The house would be lit up; the windows thrown open; they would be playing and singing and laughing, and the sounds of their merriment would come down to him into the darkness below.
All the better, all the better! He would do it before the man’s face. And when it was done, when all was over, when she lay there—lay there—there—he would turn on the man and say: “Look at her, the sweetest girl that ever breathed the breath of life, the dearest, truest woman in all the world! You have done that—you—you—you—and God damn you!”
His tortured heart was afire, and his brain was reeling. Before he knew where he was he had passed from the outer court into the inner one. “Here it is—this is the house,” he thought. But it was all dark. Just a few lights burning, but they had been carefully turned down. The windows were closed, the blinds were drawn, and there was not a sound anywhere! He stood some minutes trying to think, and during that time the mood of frenzy left him and the low cunning came back. Then he rang the bell.
There was no answer, so he rang again. After a while he heard a footstep that seemed to come up from below. Still the door was not opened, and he rang a third time.
“Who’s there?” said a voice within.
“It is I—open the door,” he answered.
“Who are you?” said the voice, and he replied impatiently:
“Come, come, Liza, open, and see.”
Then the catch lock was shot back. At the next moment he was in the hall, shutting the door behind him, and Liza was looking up into his face with eyes of mingled fear and relief.
“Lor’, sir, whyever didn’t you say it was you?”
“Where’s your mistress?”
“Gone to the office, and won’t be back till morning. And Miss Gloria isn’t home from the races yet.”
“I must see her to-night—I’ll wait upstairs.”
“You must excuse me, sir—Farver, I mean—but I wouldn’t a-known your voice, it seemed so different. And me that sleepy too, being on the go since six in the mornin’——”
“Go to bed, Liza. You sleep in the kitchen, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, thank you, I think I will, too. Miss Gloria can let herself in, anyway, same as comin’ from the theatre. But can I git ye anythink? No? Well, you know your wye up, sir, down’t ye?”
“Yes, yes; good-night, Liza!”
He had set his foot on the stair to go up to the drawing-room when it suddenly occurred to him that though he was the minister of God he was using the weapons of the devil. No matter! If he had been about to commit a crime it would have been different. But this was no crime, and he was no criminal. He was the instrument of God’s mercy to the woman he loved. He was going to slay her body that he might save her soul!
The journey home from the Derby had been a long one, but Glory had enjoyed it. When she had settled down to the physical discomfort of the blinding and choking dust, the humours of the road became amusing. This endless procession of good-humoured ruffianism sweeping through the most sacred retreats of Nature, this inroad of every order of the Stygian demi-mondeon to the slopes of Olympus, was intensely interesting. Men and women merry with drink, all laughing, shouting, and singing; some in fine clothes and lounging in carriages, others in striped jerseys and yellow cotton dresses, huddled up on donkey barrows; some smoking cigarettes and cigars and drinking champagne, others smoking clay pipes with the bowls downward, and flourishing bottles of ale; some holding rhubarb leaves over their heads for umbrellas, and pelting the police with confetti; others wearing executioners’ masks, false mustaches, and red-tipped noses, and blowing bleating notes out of penny trumpets—but all one family, one company, one class.
There were ghastly scenes as well as humorous ones—an old horse, killed by the day’s work and thrown into the ditch by the roadside, axletrees broken by the heavy loads and people thrown out of their carts and cut, boy tramps dragging along like worn-out old men, and a Welsher with his clothes torn to ribbons, stealing across the fields to escape a yelping and infuriated crowd.
But the atmosphere was full of gaiety, and Glory laughed at nearly everything. Lord Robert, with his arm about Betty’s waist, was chaffing a coster who had a drunken woman on his back seat. “Got a passenger, driver?” “Yuss, sir, and I’m agoin’ ‘ome to my wife to-night, and thet’s more nor you dare do.” A young fellow in pearl buttons was tramping along with a young girl in a tremendous hat. He snatched her hat off, she snatched off his; he kissed her, she smacked his face; he put her hat on his own head, she put on his hat; and then they linked arms and sang a verse of the Old Dutch.
Glory reproduced a part of this love-passage in pantomime, and Drake screamed with laughter.
It was seven o’clock before they reached the outskirts of London. By that time a hamper on the coach had been emptied and the bottles thrown out; the procession had drawn up at a dozen villages on the way; the perspiring tipsters, with whom “things hadn’t panned out well,” had forgotten their disappointments and “didn’t care a tinker’s! cuss”; every woman in a barrow had her head-gear in confusion, and she was singing in a drunken wail. Nevertheless Drake, who was laughing and talking constantly, said it was the quietest Derby night he had ever seen, and he couldn’t tell what things were coming to.
“Must be this religious mania, don’t you know,” said lord Robert, pointing to a new and very different scene which they had just then come upon.
It was an open space covered with people, who had lit fires as if intending to camp out all night, and were now gathered in many groups, singing hymns and praying. The drunken wails from the procession stopped for a moment, and there was nothing heard but the whirring wheels and the mournful notes of the singers. Then “Father Storm!” rose like the cry of a cormorant from a thousand throats at once. When the laughter that greeted the name had subsided, Betty said:
“‘Pon my honour, though, that man must be off his dot,” and the lady in blue went into convulsions of hysterical giggling. Drake looked uneasy, and Lord Robert said, “Who cares what an Elephant says?” But Glory took no notice now, save that for a moment the smile died off her face.
It had been agreed, when they cracked the head off the last bottle, that the company should dine together at the Cafè Royal or Romano’s, so they drove first to Drake’s chambers to brush the dust off and to wash and rest. Glory was the first to be ready, and while waiting for the others she sat at the organ in the sitting-room and played something. It was the hymn they had heard in the suburbs. At this there was laughter from the other side of the wall, and Drake, who seemed unable, to lose sight of her, came to the door of his room in his shirt sleeves. To cover up her confusion she sang a “coon” song. The company cheered her, and she sang another, and yet another. Finally she began My Mammie, but floundered, broke down, and cried.
“Rehearsal, ten in the morning,” said Betty.
Then everybody laughed, and while Drake busied himself putting Glory’s cloak on her shoulders, he whispered: “What’s to do, dear? A bit off colour to-night, eh?”
“Be a good boy and leave me alone,” she answered, and then she laughed also.
They were on the point of setting out when somebody said, “But it’s late for dinner now—why not supper at the Corinthian Club?” At that the other ladies cried “Yes” with one voice. There was a dash of daring and doubtful propriety in the proposal.
“But are you game for it?” said Drake, looking at Glory.
“Why not?” she replied, with a merry smile, whereupon he cried “All right,” and a look came into his eyes which she had never seen there before.
The Corinthian Club was in St. James’s Square, a few doors from the residence of the Bishop of London. It was now dark, and as they passed through Jermyn Street a line of poor children stood by the poulterer’s shop at the corner waiting for the scraps that are thrown away at closing time. York Street was choked with hansoms, but they reached the door at last. There were the sounds of music and dancing within. Officials in uniform stood in a hall examining the tickets of membership and taking the names of guests. The ladies removed their cloaks, the men hung up their coats and hats, a large door was thrown open, and they looked into the ballroom. The room was full of people as faultlessly dressed as at a house in Grosvenor Square. But the women were all young and pretty, and the men had no surnames. A long line of gilded youths in dress clothes occupied the middle of the floor. Each held by the waist the young man before him as if he were going to play leap-frog. “Hello there!” shouted one of them, and the band struck up. Then the whole body kicked out right and left, while all sang a chorus, consisting chiefly of “Tra-la-la-la-la-la!” One of them was a lord, another a young man who had lately come into a fortune, another a light comedian, another belonged to a big firm on the Stock Exchange, another was a mystery, and another was one of “the boys” and lived by fleecing all the rest. They were executing a dance from the latest burlesque. “Hello, there!” the conductor shouted again, and the band stopped.
Lord Robert led the way upstairs. Pretty women in light pinks and blues sat in every corner of the staircase. There was a balcony from which you could look down on the dancers as from the gallery of a playhouse. Also there was an American bar where women smoked cigarettes. Lord Robert ordered supper, and when the meal was announced they went into the supper-room.
“Hello there!” greeted them as they entered. At little tables lit up by pink candles sat small groups of shirt fronts and butterfly ties with fair heads and pretty frocks. Waiters were coming and going with champagne and silver dishes; there was a clatter of knives and forks, and a jabber of voices and laughter. And all the time there came the sounds of the band, with the “Tra-la-la” from the ballroom below.
Glory sat by Drake. She realized that she had lowered herself in his eyes by coming there. He was drinking a good deal and paying her endless compliments. From time to time the tables about them were vacated and filled again by similar shirt fronts and fair heads. People were arriving from the Derby, and the talk was of the day’s racing. Some of the new arrivals saluted Drake, and many of them looked at Glory. “A rippin’ good race, old chappie. Didn’t suit my book exactly, but the bookies will have smiling faces at Tattersall’s on Monday.”
A man with a big beard at the next table pulled down his white waistcoat, lifted his glass, and said, “To Gloria!” It was her acquaintance of the race-course.
“Who is Blue Beard?” she asked in a whisper.
“They call him the Faro King,” said Drake. “Made all his money by gambling in Paris, and now he is a squire with a living in his gift.”
Then over the laughter and voices, the band and the singing, with an awful suddenness there came a crash of thunder. The band and the comic song stopped, and there was a hush for a moment. Then Lord Robert said:
“Wonder if this is the dreadful storm that is to overwhelm the nation, don’t you know!”
That fell on the house of frivolity like a second thunderbolt, and people began to look up with blanched faces.
“Well, it isn’t the first time the storm has howled; it’s been howling all along,” said Lord Robert, but nobody laughed.
Presently the company recovered itself, the bands and the singing were heard again, louder and wilder than before, the men shouted for more champagne, and nicknamed every waiter “Father Storm.”
Glory was ashamed. With her head on her hand she was looking at the people around when the “Faro King,” who had been making eyes at her, leaned over her shoulder and said in a confidential whisper, “And what is Gloria looking for?”
“I am looking for a man,” she answered. And as the big beard turned away with “Oh, confound it!” she became aware that Drake and Lord Robert were at high words from opposite sides of the table.
“No, I tell you no, no, no!” said Drake. “Call him a weakling and a fool and an ass, if you will, but does that explain everything? This is one of the men with the breath of God in him, and you can’t judge of him by ordinary standards.”
“Should think not, indeed, dear chap,” said Lord Robert, “Common sense laughs at the creature.”
“So much the worse for common sense. When it judges of these isolated beings by the standards of the common herd then common sense is always the greatest nonsense.”
“Oho! oho!” came in several voices, but Drake paid no attention.
“Jesus Christ himself was mocked at and ridiculed by the common sense of his time, by his own people, and even his own family, and his family and people and time have been gibbeted by all the centuries that have come after them. And so it has been with every ardent soul since who has taken up his parable and introduced into the world a new spirit. The world has laughed at him and spat upon him, and, only for its fear of the sublime banner he has borne, it would have shut him up in a mad-house.”
They were strange words in a strange place. Everybody listened.
“But these sombre giants are the leaders of the world for all that, and one hour of their Divine madness is worth more to humanity than a cycle of our sanity. And yet we deny them friendship and love, and do our best to put them out of the pale of the human family! We have invented a new name for them too—degenerates—pygmies and pigs as we are, who ought to go down on our knees to them with our faces buried in the dirt! Gentlemen,” he cried, filling his glass and rising to his feet, “I give you a toast—the health of Father Storm!”
Glory had sat trembling all over, breathing hard, blushing, and wide-eyed until he had done. Then she leaped up to where he stood beside her, threw her arms about his neck, and kissed him.
“And now you ring down quick, my dear,” said Betty, and everybody laughed a little.
Drake was laughing with the rest, and Glory, who had dropped back to her seat in confused embarrassment, was trying to laugh too.
“Another bottle of fizz anyway,” cried Drake. He had mistaken the meaning of Glory’s kiss, and was utterly intoxicated by it. She could have cried with shame and rage, seeing he thought such conduct came naturally to her and perhaps imagined it wasn’t the first time she had done as much. But to carry off the situation she laughed a good deal with him, and when the wine came they jingled glasses.
“I’m going to see you home to-night,” he whispered, smiling slyly and looking her full in the eyes. She shook her head, but that only provoked him to fresh effort.
“I must, I will—you shall allow me,” and he began to play with her hand and ruffle up the lace that covered her round arm.
Just then his man Benson, looking hot and excited, came up to him with a message. Glory overheard something about “the office,” “the Secretary,” and “Scotland Yard.” Then Drake turned to her with a smile, over a look of vexation, and said: “I’m sorry, dear—very—I must go away for a while. Will you stay here until I return, or——”
“Take me out and put me in a cab,” said Glory. Their getting up attracted attention, and Lord Robert said:
“Is it, perhaps, something about that——”
“It’s nothing,” said Drake, and they left the room.
The band in the ballroom was still playing the dance out of the burlesque, and half a hundred voices were shouting “Tra-la-la-la” as Glory stepped into a hansom.
“I’ll follow on, though,” whispered Drake with a merry smile.
“We shall all be in bed, and the house locked up—— How magnificent you were to-night!”
“I couldn’t see the man trodden on when he was down—— But how lovely you’ve looked to-day, Glory! I’ll get in to-night if I have to ring up Liza or break down the door for it!”
As the cab crossed Trafalgar Square it had to draw up for a procession of people coming up Parliament Street singing hymns. Another and more disorderly procession of people, decorated with oak leaves and hawthorns and singing a music-hall song, came up and collided with it. A line of police broke up both processions; and the hansom passed through.
On entering the drawing-room John Storm was seized with a weird feeling of dread. The soft air seemed to be filled with Glory’s presence and her very breath to live in it. On the side-table a lamp was burning under a warm red shade. A heap of petty vanities lay about—articles of silver, little trinkets, fans, feathers, and flowers. His footsteps on the soft carpet made no noise. It was all so unlike the place he had come from, his own bare chamber under the church!
He could have fancied that Glory had that moment left the room. The door of a little ebony cabinet stood half open and he could see inside. Its lower shelves were full of shoes and little dainty slippers, some of them of leather, some of satin, some black, some red, some white. They touched him with an indescribable tenderness and he turned his eyes away. Under the lamp lay a pair of white gloves. One of them was flat and had not been worn, but the other was filled out with the impression of a little hand. He took it up and laid it across his own big palm, and another wave of tenderness broke over him.
On the mantelpiece there were many photographs. Most of them were of Glory and some were very beautiful, with their gleaming and glistening eyes and their curling and waving hair. One looked even voluptuous with its parted lips and smiling mouth; but another was different—it was so sweet, so gay, so artless. He thought it must belong to an earlier period, for the dress was such as she used to wear in the days when he knew her first, a simple jersey and a sailor’s stocking cap. Ah, those days that were gone, with their innocence and joy! Glory! His bright, his beautiful Glory!
His emotion was depriving him of the free use of his faculties, and he began to ask himself why he was waiting there. At the next instant came the thought of the awful thing he had come to do and it seemed monstrous and impossible. “I’ll go away,” he told himself, and he turned his face toward the door.
On a what-not at the door side of the room another photograph stood in a glass stand. His back had been to it, and the soft light of the lamp left a great part of the room in obscurity, but he saw it now, and something bitter that lay hidden at the bottom of his heart rose to his throat. It was a portrait of Drake, and at the sight of it he laughed savagely and sat down.
How long he sat he never knew. To the soul in torment there is no such thing as time; an hour is as much as, eternity and eternity is no more than an hour. His head was buried in his arms on the table and he was a prey to anguish and doubt. At one time he told himself that God did not send men to commit murder; at the next that this was not murder but sacrifice. Then a mocking voice in his ears seemed to say, “But the world will call it murder and the law will punish you.” To that he answered in his heart: “When I leave this house I will deliver myself up. I will go to the nearest police court and say ‘Take me, I have done my duty in the eye of God, but committed a crime in the eye of my country.'” And when the voice replied, “That will only lead to your own death also,” he thought, “Death is a gain to those who die for their cause, and my death will be a protest against the degradation of women, a witness against the men who make them the creatures of their pleasure, their playthings, their victims, and their slaves.” Thinking so, he found a strange thrill in the idea that all the world would hear of what he had done. “But I will say a mass for her soul in the morning,” he told himself, and a chill came over him and his heart grew cold as a stone.
Then he lifted his head and listened. The room was quiet, there was not a sound in the gardens of the Inn, and, through a window which was partly open, he could hear the monotonous murmur of the streets outside. A great silence seemed to have fallen on London—a silence more awful than all the noise and confused clamour of the evening. “It must be late,” he thought; “it must be the middle of the night.” Then the thought came to him that perhaps, Glory would not come home that night at all, and in a sudden outburst of pent-up feeling his heart cried, “Thank God! Thank God!”
He had said it aloud and the sound of his voice in the silent room—awakened all his faculties. Suddenly he was aware of other sounds outside. There was a rumble of wheels and the rattle of a hansom. The hansom came nearer and nearer. It stopped in the outside courtyard. There was the noise of a curb-chain as if the horse were shaking its head. The doors of the hansom opened with a creak and banged back on their spring. A voice, a woman’s voice, said “Good-night!” and another voice, a man’s voice, answered, “Good-night and thank you, miss!” Then the cab wheels turned and went off. All his senses seemed to have gone into his ears, and in the silence of that quiet place he heard everything. He rose to his feet and stood waiting.
After a moment there was the sound of a key in the lock of the door below; the rustle of a woman’s dress coming up the stairs, an odour of perfume in the air, an atmosphere of freshness and health, and then the door of the room which had been ajar was swung open and there on the threshold with her languid and tired but graceful movements was she herself, Glory. Then his head turned giddy and he could neither hear nor see.
When Glory saw him standing by the lamp, with his deadly pale face, she stood a moment in speechless astonishment, and passed her hand across her eyes as if to wipe out a vision. After that she clutched at a chair and made a faint cry.
“Oh, is it you?” she said in a voice which she strove to control. “How you frightened me! Whoever would have thought of seeing you here!”
He was trying to answer, but his tongue would not obey him, and his silence alarmed her.
“I suppose Liza let you in—where is Liza?”
“Gone to bed,” he said in a thick voice.
“And Rosa—have you seen Rosa?”
“Of course not! How could you? She must be at the office, and won’t be back for hours. So you see we are quite alone!”
She did not know why she said that, and, in spite of the voice which she tried to render cheerful, her lip trembled. Then she laughed, though there was nothing to laugh at, and down at the bottom of her heart she was afraid. But she began moving about, trying to make herself easy and pretending not to be alarmed.
“Well, won’t you help me off with my cloak? No? Then I must do it for myself I suppose.”
Throwing off her outer things, she walked across the room and sat down on the sofa near to where he stood.
“How tired I am! It’s been such a day! Once is enough for that sort of thing, though! Now where do you think I’ve been?”
“I know where you’ve been, Glory—I saw you there.”
“You? Really? Then perhaps it was you who——Was it you in the hollow?”
He had moved to avoid contact with her, but now, standing by the mantelpiece looking into her face, he could not help recognising in the fashionable woman at his feet the features of the girl once so dear to him, the brilliant eyes, the long lashes, the twitching of the eyelids, and the restless movement of the mouth. Then the wave of tenderness came sweeping over him again and he felt as if the ground were slipping beneath his feet.
“Will you say your prayers to-night. Glory?” he said,
“Why not?” she answered, trying to laugh.
“Then why not say them now, my child?”
He had made her tremble all over, but she got up, walked straight across to him, looked intently into his face for a moment, and then said: “What is the matter? Why are you so pale? You are not well, John!”
“No, I’m not well either.” he answered.
“John, John, what does it all mean? What are you thinking of? Why have you come here to-night?”
“To save your soul, my child. It is in great, great peril.”
At first she took this for the common, everyday language of the devotee, but another look into his face banished that interpretation, and her fear rose to terror. Nevertheless she talked lightly, hardly knowing what she said. “Am I, then, so very wicked? Surely Heaven doesn’t want me yet, John. Some day I trust—I hope——”
Then her cheeks turned pale and her lips became white and bloodless. She had returned to the sofa, and half rose from it, then sat back, stretching out one hand as if to ward off a blow, but still keeping her eyes riveted on his face. Once she looked round to the door and tried to cry out, but her voice would not answer her.
This speechless fright lasted only a moment. Then she was herself again, and looked fearlessly up at him. She had the full use of her intellect, and her quick instinct went to the root of things. “This is the madness of jealousy,” she thought. “There is only one way to deal with it. If I cry out—if I show that I am afraid—if I irritate him, it will soon, be over.” She told herself in a moment that she must try gentleness, tenderness, reason, affection, love.
Trembling from head to foot, she stepped up to him again, and began softly and sweetly trying to explain herself. “John, dear John, if you see me with certain people and in certain places you must not think from that——”
But he broke in upon her with a torrent of words. “I can’t think of it at all, Glory. When I look ahead I see nothing but shame and misery and degradation for you in the future. That man is destroying you body and soul. He is leading you on to the devil and hell and damnation, and I can not stand by and see it done!”
“Believe me, John, you are mistaken, quite mistaken.” But, with a look of sombre fury, he cried, “Can you deny it?”
“I can protect and care for myself, John.”
“With that man’s words in your ears, still can you deny it?”
Suddenly she remembered Drake’s last whisper as she got into the hansom, and she covered her face with her hands.
“You can’t! It is the truth! The man is following you to ruin you, and you know it. You’ve known it from the first, therefore you deserve all that can ever come to you. Do you know what you are guilty of? You are guilty of soul-suicide. What is the suicide of the body to the suicide of the soul? What is the crime of the poor broken creature who only chooses death and the grave before starvation or shame, compared to the sin of the wretched woman who murders her soul for sake of the lusts and vanities of the world? The law of man may punish, the one, but the vengeance of God is waiting for the other.”
She was crying behind her hands, and, in spite of the fury into which he had lashed himself, a great pity took hold of him. He felt as if everything were slipping away from him, and he was trying to stand on an avalanche. But he told himself that he would not waver, that he would hold to his purpose, that he would stand firm as a rock. Heaving a deep sigh, he walked to and fro across the room.
“O Glory, Glory! Can’t you understand what it is to me to be the messenger of God’s judgment?”
She gasped for breath, and what had been a vague surmise became a certainty—thinking he was God’s avenger, yet with nothing but a poor spasm of jealousy in his heart, he had come with a fearful purpose to perform.
“I did what I could in other ways and it was all in vain. Time after time I tried to save you from these dangers, but you would not listen. I was ready for any change, any sacrifice. Once I would have given up all the world for you, Glory—you know that quite well—friends, kinsmen, country, everything, even my work and my duty, and, but for the grace of God, God himself!”
But his tenderness broke again into a headlong torrent of reproach. “You failed me, didn’t you? At the last moment, too—the very last! Not content with the suicide of your own soul, you must attempt to murder the soul of another. Do you know what that is? That is the unpardonable sin! You are crying, aren’t you? Why are you crying?” But even while he said this something told him that all he was waiting for was that her beautiful eyes should be raised and their splendid light flash upon him again.
“But that is all over now. It was a blunder, and the breach between us is irreparable. I am better as I am—far, far better. Without friends or kin or country, consecrated for life, cut off from the world, separate, alone!”
She knew that her moment had come, and that she must vanquish this man and turn him from his purpose, whatever it was, by the only weapon a woman could use—his love of her. “I do not deny that you have a right to be angry with me,” she said, “but don’t think that I have not given up something too. At the time you speak of, when I chose this life and refused to go with you to the South Seas, I sacrificed a good deal—I sacrificed love. Do you think I didn’t realize what that meant? That whatever the pleasure and delight my art might bring me, and the flattery, and the fame, and the applause, there were joys I was never to know—the happiness that every poor woman may feel, though she isn’t clever at all, and the world knows nothing about her—the happiness of being a wife and a mother, and of holding her place in life, however humble she is and simple and unknown, and of linking the generations each to each. And, though the world has been so good to me, do you think I have ever ceased to regret that? Do you think I don’t remember it sometimes when the house rises at me, or when I am coming home, or perhaps when I awake in the middle of the night? And notwithstanding all this success with which the world has crowned me, do you think I don’t hunger sometimes for what success can never buy—the love of a good man who would love me with all his soul and his strength and everything that is his?”
Out of a dry and husky throat John Storm answered: “I would rather die a thousand, thousand deaths than touch a hair of your head, Glory…. But God’s will is his will!” he added, quivering and trembling. The compulsion of a great passion was drawing him, but he struggled hard against it. “And then this success—you cling to it nevertheless!” he cried, with a forced laugh.
“Yes, I cling to it,” she said, wiping away the tears that had begun to fall. “I can not give it up, I can not, I can not!”
“Then what is the worth of your repentance?”
“It is not repentance—it is what you said it was—in this room—long ago…. We are of different natures, John—that is the real trouble between us, now and always has been. But whether we like it or not, our lives are wrapped up together for all that. We can’t do without each other. God makes men and women like that sometimes.”
There was a piteous smile on his face. “I never doubted your feeling for me, Glory. No, not even when you hurt me most.”
“And if God made us so——”
“I shall never forgive myself, Glory, though Heaven itself forgives me!”
“If God makes us love each other in spite of every barrier that divides us——”
“I shall never know another happy hour in this life. Glory—never!”
“Then why should we struggle? It is our fate and we can not conquer it. You can’t give up your life, John, and I can’t give up mine; but our hearts are one.”
Her voice sang like music in his ears, and something in his aching heart was saying: “What are the laws we make for ourselves compared to the laws God makes for us?” Suddenly he felt something warm. It was Glory’s breath on his hand. A fragrance like incense seemed to envelop him. He gasped as if suffocating, and sat down on the sofa.
“You are wrong, dear, if you think I care for the man you speak of. He has been very good to me and helped me in my career, but he is nothing to me—nothing whatever—But we are such old friends, John? It seems impossible to remember a time when we were not old chums, you and I! Sometimes I dream of those dear old days in the ‘lil oilan’! Aw, they were ter’ble—just ter’ble! Do you remember the boat—the Gloria—do you remember her?” (He clinched his hands as though to hold on to his purpose, but it was slipping through his fingers like sand.) “What times they were! Coming round the castle of a summer evening when the bay and the sky were like two sheets of silvered glass looking into each other, and you and I singing ‘John Peel'” (in a quavering voice she sang a bar or two): “‘D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay? D’ye ken John Peel’—-Do you remember it, John?”
She was sobbing and laughing by turns. It was her old self, and the cruel years seemed to roll back. But still he struggled. “What is the love of the body to the love of the soul?” he told himself.
“You wore flannels then, and I was in a white jersey—like this, see,” and she snatched up from the mantelpiece the photograph he had been looking at. “I got up my first act in imitation of it, and sometimes in the middle of a scene—such a jolly scene, too—my mind goes back to that sweet old time and I burst out crying.”
He pushed the photograph away. “Why do you remind me of those days?” he said. “Is it only to make me realize the change in you?” But even at that moment the wonderful eyes pierced him through and through.
“Am I so much changed, John? Am I? No, no, dear! It is only my hair done differently. See, see!” and with trembling fingers she tore her hair from its knot. It fell in clusters over her shoulders and about her face. He wanted to lay his hand on it, and he turned to her and then turned away, fighting with himself as with an enemy.
“Or is it this old rag of lace that is so unlike my jersey? There—there!” she cried, tearing the lace from her neck, and throwing it on the floor and trampling upon it. “Look at me now, John—look at me? Am I not the same as ever? Why don’t you look?”
She was fighting for her life. He started to his feet and came to her with his teeth set and his pupils fixed. “This is only the devil tempting me. Say your prayers, child!”
He grasped her left hand with his right. His grip almost overtaxed her strength and she felt faint. In an explosion of emotion the insane frenzy for destroying had come upon him again. He longed to give his feelings physical expression.
“Say them, say them!” he cried, “God sent me to kill you, Glory!”
A sensation of terror and of triumph came over her at once. She half closed her eyes and threw her other arm around his neck. “No, but to love me!—Kiss me, John!”
Then a cry came from him like that of a man flinging himself over a precipice. He threw his arms about her, and her disordered hair fell over his face.
“I thought it was God’s voice—it was the devil’s!”
John Storm was creeping like a thief through the streets of London in the dark hours before the dawn. It was a peaceful night after the thunderstorm of the evening before. A few large stars had come out, a clear moon, was shining, and the air was quiet after the cries, the crackling tumult, and all the fury of human throats. There was only the swift rattling of mail cars running to the Post Office, the heavy clank of country carts crawling to Covent Garden, the measured tread of policemen, and the muddled laughter of drunken men and women by the coffee stands at the street corners. “‘Ow’s the deluge, myte? Not come off yet? Well, give us a cup of cawfee on the strength of it.”
It seemed as if eyes looked down on him from the dark sky and pierced him through and through. His whole life had been an imposture from the first—his quarrel with his father, his taking Orders, his entering the monastery and his leaving it, his crusade in Soho, his intention of following Father Damien, his predictions at Westminster—all, all had been false, and the expression of a lie! He was a sham, a mockery, a whited sepulchre, and had grossly sinned against the light and against God.
But the spiritual disillusion had come at last, and it had revealed him to himself at an awful depth of self-deception. Thinking in his pride and arrogance he was the divine messenger, the avenger, the man of God, he had set out to shed blood like any wretched criminal, any jealous murderer who was driven along by devilish passion. How the devil had played with him too!—with him, who was dedicated by the most solemn and sacred vows! And he had been as stubble before the wind—as chaff that the storm carrieth away!
With such feelings of poignant anguish he plodded through the echoing streets. Mechanically he made his way back to Westminster. By the time he got there the moon and stars had gone and the chill of daybreak was in the air. He saw and heard nothing, but as he crossed Broad Sanctuary a line of mounted police trotted past him with their swords clanking.
It was not yet daylight when he knocked at the door of his chambers under the church.
“Who’s there?” came in a fierce whisper.
“Open the door,” he said in a spiritless voice.
The door was opened, and Brother Andrew, with the affectionate whine of a dog who has been snarling at his master in the dark, said: “Oh, is it you, Father? I thought you were gone. Did you meet them? They’ve been searching for you everywhere all night long.”
He still spoke in whispers, as if some one had been ill. “I can’t light up. They’d be sure to see and perhaps come back. They’ll come in the morning in any case. Oh, it’s terrible! Worse than ever now! Haven’t you heard what has happened? Somebody has been killed!”
John was struggling to listen, but everything seemed to be happening a long way off.
“Well, not killed exactly, but badly hurt, and taken to the hospital.”
It was Charlie Wilkes. He had insulted the name of the Father, and Pincher, the pawnbroker, had knocked him down. His head had struck against the curb, and he had been picked up insensible. Then the police had come and Pincher had been taken off to the police station.
“But it’s my mother I’m thinking of,” said Brother Andrew, and he brushed his sleeve across his eyes. “You must get away at once, Father. They’ll lay everything on you. What’s to be done? Let me think! Let me think! How my head is going round and round! There’s a train from Euston to the north at five in the morning, isn’t there? You must catch that. Don’t speak, Father! Don’t say you won’t.”
“I will go,” said John with a look of utter dejection.
The change that had come over him since the night before startled the lay brother. “But I suppose you’ve been out all night. How tired you look! Can I get you anything?”
John did not answer, and the lay brother brought some brown bread and coaxed him to eat a little of it. The day was beginning to dawn.
“Now you must go, Father.”
“And you, my lad?”
“Oh, I can take care of myself.”
“Go back to the Brotherhood; take the dog with you——”
“The dog!” Brother Andrew seemed to be about to say something; but he checked himself, and with a wild look he muttered: “Oh, I know what I’ll do. Good-bye!”
“Good-bye!” said John, and then the broken man was back in the streets.
His nervous system had been exhausted by the events of the night, and when he entered the railway station he could scarcely put one foot before another. “Looks as if he’d had enough,” said somebody behind him. He found an empty carriage and took his seat in the corner. A kind of stupor had come over his faculties and he could neither think nor feel.
Three or four young men and boys were sorting and folding newspapers at a counter that stood on trestles before the closed-up bookstall. A placard slipped from the fingers of one of them and fell on to the floor. John saw his own name in monster letters, and he began to ask himself what he was doing. Was he running away? It was cowardly, it was contemptible! And then it was so useless! He might go to the ends of the earth, yet he could not escape the only enemy it was worth while to fly from. That enemy was himself.
Suddenly he remembered that he had not taken his ticket, and he got out of the train. But instead of going to the ticket office he stood aside and tried to think what he ought to do. Then there was confusion and noise, people were hurrying past him, somebody was calling to him, and finally the engine whistled and the smoke rose to the roof. When he came to himself the train was gone and he was standing on the platform alone.
“But what am I to do?” he asked himself.
It was a lovely summer morning and the streets were empty and quiet. Little by little they became populous and noisy, and at length he was walking in a crowd. It was nine o’clock by this time, and he was in the Whitechapel road, going along with a motley troop of Jews, Polish Jews, Germans, German Jews, and all the many tribes of Cockneydom. Two costers behind him were talking and laughing.
“Lor’ blesh you, it’s jest abart enneff to myke a corpse laugh.”
“Ain’t it? An acquyntince uv mine—d’ye know Jow ‘Awkins? Him as kep’ the frahd fish shop off of Flower and Dean. Yus? Well, he sold his bit uv biziness lahst week for a song, thinkin’ the world was acomin’ to a end, and this mornin’ I meets ‘im on the ‘Owben Viadeck lookin’ as if ‘e’d ‘ad the smallpox or semthink!”
John Storm had scarcely heard them. He had a strange feeling that everything was happening hundreds of miles away.
“What am I to do?” he asked himself again. Between twelve and one o’clock he was back in the city, walking aimlessly on and on. He did not choose the unfrequented thoroughfares, and when people looked into his face he thought, “If anybody asks me who I am I’ll tell him.” It was eight hours since he had eaten anything, and he felt weak and faint. Coming upon a coffee-house, he went in and ordered food. The place was full of young clerks at their midday meal. Most of them were reading newspapers which they had folded and propped up on the tables before them, but two who sat near were talking.
“These predictions of the end of the world are a mania, a monomania, which recurs at regular intervals of the world’s history,” said one. He was a little man with a turned-up nose.
“But the strange thing is that people go on believing them,” said his companion.
“That’s not strange at all. This big, idiotic, amphorous London has no sense of humour. See how industriously it has been engaged for the last month in the noble art of making a fool of itself!” And then he looked around at John Storm, as if proud of his tall language.
John did not listen. He knew that everybody was talking about him, yet the matter did not seem to concern him now, but to belong to some other existence which his soul had had.
At length an idea came to him and he thought he knew what he ought to do. He ought to go to the Brotherhood and ask to be taken back. But not as a son this time, only as a servant, to scour and scrub to the end of his life. There used to be a man to sweep out the church and ring the church bell—he might be allowed to do menial work like that. He had proved false to his ideal, he had not been able to resist the lures of earthly love, but God was merciful. He would not utterly reject him.
His self-abasement was abject, yet several hours had passed before he attempted to carry out this design. It was the time of Evensong when he reached the church, and the brothers were singing their last hymn:
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly.
He stood by the porch and listened. The street was very quiet; hardly anybody was passing.
Hide me, O my Saviour hide,
Till the storms of life be past.
His heart surged up to his throat, and he could scarcely bear the pain of it. Yes, yes, yes! Other refuge had he none!
Suddenly a new thought smote him, and he felt like a man roused from a deep sleep. Glory! He had been thinking only of his own soul and his soul’s salvation, and had forgotten his duty to others. He had his duty to Glory above all others and lie could not and must not escape from it. He must take his place by her side, and if that included the abandonment of his ideals, so be it! He had been proved unworthy of a life of holiness; he must lower his flag, he must be content to live the life of a man.
But he could not think what he ought to do next, and when night fell he was still wandering aimlessly through the streets. He had turned eastward again, and even in the tumultuous thoroughfares of the Mile End he could not help seeing that something unusual was going on. People in drink were rolling about the streets, and shouting and singing as if it had been a public holiday. “Glad you ain’t in kingdom-come to-night, old gal!” “Well, what do you think?”
At twelve o’clock he went into a lodging-house and asked if he could have a bed. The keeper was in the kitchen talking with two men who were cooking a herring for their supper, and he looked up at his visitor in astonishment.
“Can I sleep you, sir? We ain’t got no accommodation for gentlemen——” and then he stopped, looked more attentively, and said:
“Are you from the Settlement, sir?”
John Storm made some inarticulate reply.
“Thort ye might be, sir. We often ‘as ‘em ‘ere sempling the cawfee, but blessed if they ever wanted to semple a bed afore. Still, if you down’t mind——”
“It will be better than I deserve, my man. Can you give me a cup of coffee before I turn in?”
“With pleasure, sir! Set down, sir! Myke yourself at ‘ome. Me and my friends were just talkin’ of a gentleman of your cloth, sir—the pore feller as ‘as got into trouble acrost Westminster way.”
“Oh, you were talking of him, were you?”
“Sem ‘ere says the biziness pize.”
“It must py, or people wouldn’t do it,” said the man leaning over the fire.
“Down’t you believe it. That little gime down’t py. Cause why? Look at the bloomin’ stoo the feller’s in now. If they ketch ‘im ‘e’ll get six months ‘ard.”
“Then what’s ‘e been doin’ it for? I down’t see nothink in it if it down’t py.”.
“Cause he believes in it, thet’s why!—What do you think, sir?”
“I think the man has come by a just fall,” said John. “God will never use him again, having brought him to shame.”
“Must hev been a wrong un certingly,” said the man over the fire.
When John Storm awoke in his cubicle next morning he saw his way clearer. He would deliver himself up to the warrant that was issued for his arrest, and go through with it to the end. Then he would return to Glory a free man, and God would find work for him even yet, after this awful lesson to his presumption and pride.
“That feller as was took ter the awspital is dead,” said somebody in the kitchen, and then there was the crinkling of a newspaper.
“Is ‘e?” said another. “The best thing the Father can do is to ‘ook it then. Cause why? Whether ‘e done it or not they’ll fix it on ter ‘im, doncher know!”
John’s head spun round and round. He remembered what Brother Andrew had said of Charlie Wilkes, and his heart, so warm a moment ago, felt benumbed as by frost. Nevertheless, at nine o’clock he was going westward in the Underground. People looked at him when he stepped into the carriage. He thought everybody knew him, and that the world was only playing with him as a cat plays with a mouse. The compartment was full of young clerks smoking pipes and reading newspapers.
“Most extraordinary!” said one of them. “The fellow has disappeared as absolutely as if he had been carried up into a cloud.”
“Why extraordinary?” said another in a thin voice. This one was not smoking, and he had the startled eyes of the enthusiast. “Elijah was taken up to heaven in the body, wasn’t he? And why not Father Storm?”
“What?” cried the first, taking his pipe out of his mouth.
“Some people believe that,” said the thin voice timidly.
“Oh, you want a dose of medicine, you do,” said the first speaker, shaking out his ash and looking round with a knowing air. The young men got out in the City; John went on to Westminster Bridge.
It was terrible. Why could he not take advantage of the popular superstition and disappear indeed, taking Glory with him! But no, no, no!
Through all the torment of his soul his religion had remained the same, and now it rose up before him like a pillar of cloud and fire. He would do as he had intended, whatever the consequences, and if he was charged with crimes he had not committed, if he was accused of the offences of his followers, he would make no defence; if need be he would allow himself to be convicted, and being innocent in this instance God would accept his punishment as an atonement for his other sins! Glorious sacrifice! He would make it! He would make it! And Glory herself would be proud of it some day.
With the glow of this resolution upon him he turned into Scotland Yard and stepped boldly up to the office. The officer in charge received him with a deferential bow, but went on talking in a low voice to an inspector of police who was also standing at the other side of a counter.
“Strange?” he was saying. “I thought he was seen getting into the train at Euston.”
“Don’t know that he wasn’t either, in spite of all he says.”
“Thinking of the dog.”
“Well, the dog, too,” said the inspector, and then seeing John, “Hello! Who’s here?”
The officer stepped up to the counter. “What can I do for you, sir?” he asked.
John knew that the supreme moment had come, and he felt proud of himself that his resolution did not waver. Lifting his head, he said in a low and rapid voice, “I understand that you have a warrant for the arrest of Father Storm.”
“We had, sir,” the officer answered.
John looked embarrassed. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that Father Storm is now in custody.”
John stared at the man with a feeling of stupefaction. “In custody! Did you say in custody?”
“Precisely! He has just given himself up.”
John answered impetuously, “But that is impossible.”
“Why impossible, sir? Are you interested in this case?”
A certain quivering moved John’s mouth. “I am Father Storm himself.”
The officer was silent for a moment. Then he turned to the inspector with a pitying smile. “Another of them,” he said significantly. The psychology of criminals had been an interesting study to this official.
“Wait a minute,” said the inspector, and he went hurriedly through an inner doorway. The officer asked John some questions about his movements since yesterday. John answered vaguely in broken and rather bewildering sentences. Then the inspector returned.
“You are Father Storm?”
“Do you know of anybody who might wish to personate you?”
“God forbid that any one should do that!”
“Still, there is some one here who says——”
“Let me see him.”
“Come this way quietly,” said the inspector, and John followed him to the inner room. His pride was all gone, his head was hanging low, and he was a prey to extraordinary agitation.
A man in a black cassock was sitting at a table making a statement to another officer with an open book before him. His back was to the door, but John knew him in a moment. It was Brother Andrew.
“Then why have you given yourself up?” the officer asked, and Brother Andrew began a rambling and foolish explanation. He had seen it stated in an evening paper that the Father had been traced to the train at Euston, and he thought it a pity—a pity that the police—that the police should waste their time——
“Take care!” said the officer. “You are in a position that should make you careful of what you say.”
And then the inspector stepped forward, leaving John by the door.
“You still say you are Father Storm?”
“Of course I do,” said Brother Andrew indignantly. “If I was anybody else, do you think I should come here and give myself up——”
“Then who is this standing behind you?”
Brother Andrew turned and saw John with a start of surprise and a cry of terror. He seemed hardly able to believe in the reality of what was before him, and his restless eyeballs rolled fearfully. John tried to speak, but he could only utter a few inarticulate sounds.
“Well?” said the inspector. And while John stood with head down and heaving breast, Brother Andrew began to laugh hysterically and to say:
“Don’t you know who this is? This is my lay brother! I brought him out of the Brotherhood six months ago, and he has been with me ever since.”
The officers looked at each other. “Good heavens!” cried Brother Andrew in an imperious voice, “don’t you believe me? You mustn’t touch this man. He has done nothing—nothing at all. He is as tender as a woman and wouldn’t hurt a fly. What’s he doing here?”
The officers also were dropping their heads, and the heartrending voice went on: “Have you arrested him? You’ll do very wrong if you arrest——But perhaps he has given himself up! That would be just like him. He is devoted to me and would tell you any falsehood if he thought it would——But you must send him away. Tell him to go back to his old mother—that’s the proper place for him. Good God! do you think I’m telling you lies?”
There was silence for a moment. “My poor lad, hush, hush!” said John in a tone full of tenderness and authority. Then he turned to the inspector with a pitiful smile of triumph. “Are you satisfied?” he asked.
“Quite satisfied, Father,” the officer answered in a broken voice, and then Brother Andrew began to cry.
When Glory awoke on the morning after the Derby and thought of John she felt no remorse. A sea of bewildering difficulty lay somewhere ahead, but she would not look at it. He loved her, she loved him, and nothing else mattered. If rules and vows stood between them, so much the worse for such enemies of love.
She was conscious that a subtle change had come over her. She was not herself any longer, but somebody else as well; not a woman merely, but in some sort a man; not Glory only, but also John Storm. Oh, delicious mystery! Oh, joy of joys! His arms seemed to be about her waist still, and his breath to linger about her neck. With a certain tremor, a certain thrill, she reached for a hand-glass and looked at herself to learn if there was any difference in her face that the rest of the world would see. Yes, her eyes had another lustre, a deeper light, but she lay back in the cool bed with a smile and a long-drawn sigh. What matter whatever happened! Gone were the six cruel months in which she had awakened every morning with a pain at her breast. She was happy, happy, happy!
The morning sun was streaming across the room when Liza came in with the tea.
“Did ye see the Farver last night, Miss Gloria?”
“Oh, yes; that was all right, Liza.”
The day’s newspaper was lying folded on the tray. She took it up and opened it, remembering the Derby, and thinking for the first time of Drake’s triumph. But what caught her eye in glaring head-lines was a different matter: “The Panic Terror—Collapse of the Farce.”
It was a shriek of triumphant derision. The fateful day had come and gone, yet London stood where it did before. Last night’s tide had flowed and ebbed, and the dwellings of men were not submerged. No earthquake had swallowed up St. Paul’s; no mighty bonfire of the greatest city of the world had lit up the sky of Europe, and even the thunderstorm which had broken over London had only laid the dust and left the air more clear.
“London is to be congratulated on the collapse of this panic, which, so far as we can hear, has been attended by only one casualty—an assault in Brown’s Square, Westminster, on a young soldier, Charles Wilkes, of the Wellington Barracks, by two of the frantic army of the terror-stricken. The injured man was removed to St. Thomas’s Hospital, while his assailants were taken to Rochester Row police station, and we have only to regret that the clerical panic-maker himself has not yet shared the fate of his followers. Late last night the authorities, recovering from their extraordinary supineness, issued a warrant for his arrest, but up to the time of going to press he had escaped the vigilance of the police.”
Glory was breathing audibly as she read, and Liza, who was drawing up the blind, looked back at her with surprise.
“Liza, have you mentioned to anybody that Father Storm was here last night?”
“Why, no, miss, there ain’t nobody stirring yet, and besides——”
“Then don’t mention it to a soul. Will you do me that great, great kindness?”
“Down’t ye know I will, mum?” said Liza, with a twinkle of the eye and a wag of the head.
Glory dressed hurriedly, went down to the drawing-room, and wrote a letter. It was to Sefton, the manager. “Do not expect me to play to-night. I don’t feel up to it. Sorry to be so troublesome.”
Then Rosa came in with another newspaper in her hand, and, without saying anything, Glory showed her the letter. Rosa read it and returned it in silence. They understood each other.
During the next few hours Glory’s impatience became feverish, and as soon as the first of the evening papers appeared she sent out for it. The panic was subsiding, and the people who had gone to the outskirts were returning to the city in troops, looking downcast and ashamed. No news of Father Storm. Inquiry that morning at Scotland Yard elicited the fact that nothing had yet been heard of him. There was much perplexity as to where he had spent the previous night.
Glory’s face tingled and burned. From hour to hour she sent out for new editions. The panic itself was now eclipsed by the interest of John Storm’s disappearance. His followers scouted the idea that he had fled from London. Nevertheless, he had fallen. As a pretender to the gift of prophecy his career was at an end, and his crazy system of mystical divinity was the laughing-stock of London.
“It does not surprise us that this second Moses, this mock Messiah, has broken down. Such men always do, and must collapse, but that the public should ever have taken seriously a movement which——” and then a grotesque list of John’s followers—one pawnbroker, one waiter, one “knocker-up,” two or three apprentices, etc.
As she read all this, Glory was at the same time glowing with shame, trembling with fear, and burning with indignation. She dined with Rosa alone, and they tried to talk of other matters. The effort was useless. At last Rosa said:
“I have to follow this thing up for the paper, dear, and I’m going to-night to see if they hold the usual service in his church.”
“May I go with you?”
“If you wish to, but it will be useless—he won’t be there.”
“The Prime Minister left London last night—I can’t help thinking there is something in that.”
“He will be there, Rosa. He’s not the man to run away. I know him,” said Glory proudly.
The church was crowded, and it was with difficulty they found seats. John’s enemies were present in force—all the owners of vested interests who had seen their livelihood threatened by the man who declared war on vice and its upholders. There was a dangerous atmosphere before the service began, and, notwithstanding her brave faith in him, Glory found herself praying that John Storm might not come. As the organ played and the choir and clergy entered the excitement was intense, and some of the congregation got on to their seats in their eagerness to see if the Father was there. He was not there. The black cassock and biretta in which he had lately preached were nowhere to be seen, and a murmur of disappointment passed over friends and enemies alike.
Then came a disgraceful spectacle. A man with a bloated face and a bandage about his forehead rose in his place and cried, “No popery, boys!” Straightaway the service, which was being conducted by two of the clerical brothers from the Brotherhood, was interrupted by hissing, whistling, shouting, yelling, and whooping indescribable. Songs were roared out during the lessons, and cushions, cassocks, and prayer-books were flung at the altar and its furniture. The terrified choir boys fled downstairs to their own quarters, and the clergy were driven out of the church.
John’s own people stole away in terror and shame, but Glory leaped to her feet as if to fling herself on the cowardly rabble. Her voice was lost in the tumult, and Rosa drew her out into the street.
“Is there no law in the land to prevent brawling like this?” she cried, but the police paid no heed to her.
Then the congregation, which had broken up, came rushing out of the church and round to the door leading to the chambers beneath it.
“They’ve found him,” thought Glory, pressing her hand over her heart. But no, it was another matter. Immediately afterward there rose over the babel of human voices the deep music of the bloodhound in full cry. The crowd shrieked with fear and delight, then surged and parted, and the dog came running through with its stern up, its head down, its forehead wrinkled, and the long drapery of its ears and flews hanging in folds about its face. In a moment it was gone, its mellow note was dying away in the neighbouring streets, and a gang of ruffians were racing after it. “That’ll find the feller if he’s in London!” somebody shouted; it was the man with the bandaged forehead—and there were yells of fiendish laughter.
Glory’s head was going round, and she was holding on to Rosa’s arm with a convulsive grasp.
“The cowards!” she cried. “To use that poor creature’s devotion to its master for their own inhuman ends—it’s cowardly, it’s brutal, it’s——Oh, oh, oh!”
“Come, dear,” said Rosa, and she dragged Glory away.
They went back through Broad Sanctuary. Neither spoke, but both were thinking: “He has gone to the monastery. He intends to stay there until the storm is over.” At Westminster Bridge they parted. “I have somewhere to go,” said Rosa, turning down to the Underground. “She is going to Bishopsgate Street,” thought Glory, and they separated with constraint.
Returning to Clement’s Inn, Glory found a letter from Drake:
“Dear Glory: How can I apologize to you for nay detestable behaviour of last night? The memory of what passed has taken all the joy out of the success upon which everybody is congratulating me. I have tried to persuade myself that you would make allowances for the day and the circumstances and my natural excitement. But your life has been so blameless that it fills me with anguish and horror to think how I exposed you to misrepresentation by allowing you to go to that place, and by behaving to you as I did when you were there. Thank God, things went no farther, and some blessed power prevented me from carrying out my threat to follow you. Believe me, you shall see no more of men like Lord Robert Ure and women like his associates. I despise them from my heart, and wonder how I can have tolerated them so long. Do let me beg the favour of a line consenting to allow me to call and ask your forgiveness. Yours most humbly,
“F. H. N. Drake.”
Glory slept badly that night, and as soon as Liza was stirring she rang for the newspaper.
“Didn’t ye ‘ear the dorg, mum?” said Liza.
“The Farver’s dorg. It was scratching at the front dawer afore I was up this morning. ‘It’s the milk,’ sez I. But the minute I opened the dawer up it came ter the drawerin’ room and went snuffling rahnd everywhere.”
“Where is it now?”
“Did anybody else see it? No? You say no? You’re sure? Then say nothing about it, Liza—nothing whatever—that’s a good girl.”
The newspaper was full of the mysterious disappearance. Not a trace of the Father had yet been found. The idea had been started that he had gone into seclusion at the Anglican monastery with which he was associated, but on inquiry at Bishopsgate Street it was found that nothing had been seen of him there. Since yesterday the whole of London had been scoured by the police, but not one fact had been brought to light to make clearer the mystery of his going away. With the most noticeable face and habit in London he had evaded scrutiny and gone into a retirement which baffled discovery. No master of the stage art could have devised a more sensational disappearance. He had vanished as though whirled to heaven in a cloud, and that was literally what the more fanatical of his followers believed to have been his fate. Among these persons there were wild-eyed hangers-on telling of a flight upward on a fiery chariot, as well as a predicted disappearance and reappearance after three days. Such were the stories being gulped down by the thousands who still clung with an indefinable fascination to the memory of the charlatan. Meantime the soldier Wilkes had died of his injuries, and the coroner’s inquiry was to be opened that day.
“Unfeeling brutes! The bloodhound is an angel of mercy compared to them,” thought Glory, but the worst sting was in the thought that John had fled out of fear and was now in hiding somewhere.
Toward noon the newsboys were rushing through the Inn, crying their papers against all regulations, and at the same moment Rosa came in to say that John Storm had surrendered.
“I knew it!” cried Glory; “I knew he would!”
Then Rosa told her of Brother Andrew’s attempt to personate his master, and with what pitiful circumstances it had ended.
“Only a lay brother, you say, Rosa?”
“Yes, a poor half-witted soul apparently—must have been, to imagine that a subterfuge like that would succeed in London.”
Glory’s eyes were gleaming. “Rosa,” she said, “I would rather have done what he did than play the greatest part in the world.”
She wished to be present at the trial, and proposed to Rosa that she should go with her.
“But dare you, my child? Considering your old friendship, dare you see him——”
“Dare I?” said Glory. “Dare I stand in the dock by his side!”
But when she got to Bow Street and saw the crowds in the court, the line of distinguished persons of both sexes allowed to sit on the bench, the army of reporters and newspaper artists, and all the mass of smiling and eager faces, without ruth or pity, gathered together as for a show, her heart sickened and she crept out of the place before the prisoner was brought into the dock.
Walking to and fro in the corridor, she waited the result of the trial. It was not a long one. The charge was that of causing people unlawfully to assemble to the danger of the public peace. There was no defence. A man with a bandaged forehead was the first of the witnesses. He was a publican, who lived in Brown’s Square and had been a friend of the soldier Wilkes. The injury to his forehead was the result of a blow from a stick given by the prisoner’s lay brother on the night of the Derby, when, with the help of the deceased, he had attempted to liberate the bloodhound. He had much to say of the Father’s sermons, his speeches, his predictions, his slanders, and his disloyalty. Other witnesses were Pincher and Hawkins. They were in a state of abject fear at the fate hanging over their own heads, and tried to save their own skins by laying the blame of their own conduct upon the Father. The last witness was Brother Andrew, and he broke down utterly. Within an hour Rosa came out to say that John Storm had been committed for trial. Bail was not asked for, and the prisoner, who had not uttered a word from first to last, had been taken back to the cells.
Glory hurried home and shut herself in her room. The newsboys in the street were shouting, “Father Storm in the dock!” and filling the air with their cries. She covered her ears with her hands, and made noises in her throat that she might not hear.
John Storm’s career was at an end. It was all her fault. If she had yielded to his desire to leave London, or if she had joined him there, how different everything must have been! But she had broken in upon his life and wrecked it. She had sinned against him who had given her everything that one human soul can give another.
Liza came up with, red eyes, bringing the evening papers and a letter. The papers contained long reports of the trial and short editorials reproving the public for its interest in such a poor impostor. Some of them contained sketches of the prisoner and of the distinguished persons recognised in court. “The stage was represented by——,” and then a caricature of herself.
The letter was from Aunt Rachel:
“My Dear, My Best-Beloved Glory: I know how much your kind heart will be lowered by the painful tidings I have to write to you. Lord Storm died on Monday and was buried to-day. To the last he declared he would never consent to make peace with John, and he has left nothing to him but his title, so that our dear friend is now a nobleman without an estate. Everybody about the old lord at the end was unanimous in favour of his son, but he would not listen to them, and the scene at the deathbed was shocking. It seems that with his dying breath and many bursts of laughter he read aloud his will, which ordered that his effects should be sold and the proceeds given to some society for the protection of the Established Church. And then he told old Chaise that as soon as he was gone a coffin was to be got and he was to be screwed down at once, ‘for,’ said he, ‘my son would not come to see me living, and he sha’n’t stand grinning at me dead.’ The funeral was at Kirkpatrick this morning, and few came to see the last of one who had left none to mourn him; but just as the remains were being deposited in the dark vault a carriage drove up and an elderly gentleman got out. No one knew him, and he stood and looked down with his impassive face while the service was being read, and then, without speaking to any one, he got back into the carriage and drove away. The minute he was gone I told Anna he was somebody of consequence; and then everybody said it must be Lord Storm’s brother and no less a person than the Prime Minister of England. It seems that the sale is to come off immediately, so that Knockaloe will be a waste, as if sown with salt; and, so far as this island is concerned, all trace of the Storms, father and son, will be gone for good. I ever knew it must end thus! But I will more particularly tell you everything when we meet again, which I hope may be soon. Meantime I need not say how much I am, my dear child, your ever fond—nay, more than fond—devoted auntie.