« PoprzedniaDalej »
and one daughter, Helena, who was engaged to Basil Gortre, the curate.
About six o'clock the vicar sat in his study with a pile of letters before him. The room was a comfortable, bookish place, panelled in pitch pine where the walls were not covered with shelves of theological and philosophical works.
The arm-chairs were not new, but they invited repose ; the large engraving over the pipe-littered mantel was a fine autotype of Giacomo's St. Emilia. The room was brightly lit with electric light.
Mr. Byars was a man of medium height, bald, his fine, domed forehead adding to his apparent age, and wore a pointed grey beard and moustache. He was an epitome of the room around him.
The volumes on his shelves were no ancient and musty tomes, but represented the latest and newest additions to theological thought.
Lathom and Edersheim stood together with Renan's Vie de Jésus and Clermont-Ganneau's Recueil d'Arch. Orient, and Westcott guarded them all.
The ivory crucifix which stood on the writing-table completed the impression of the man.
Ambrose Byars at forty - five was thoroughly acquainted with modern thought and literature. His scholarship was tempered with the wisdom of an active and clear-headed man of the world. His life and habits were simple but unbigoted, and his broad-mindedness never obscured his unalterable convictions. He lived, as he conceived it his duty to live in his time and place, in thorough human and intellectual correspondence with his environment, but one thought, one absolute certainty informed his life.
As year by year his knowledge grew greater, and the scientific criticism of the Scriptures undermined the faith of weaker and less richly endowed minds, he only found in each discovery a more vivid proof of the truth of the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
It was his habit in discussions to reconcile all apparently conflicting anti-christian statements and weave them into the fabric of his convictions. He held that, even scientifically, historically, and materially, the evidence for the Resurrection was too strong to be ever overthrown. And beyond these intellectual evidences he knew that Christ must have risen from the dead, because he himself had found Christ and was found in Him.
His attitude was a careful one with all its conciseness. An anecdote illustrates this.
One day, when walking home from a meeting of the School Board, of which he was a member, he had met a parishioner named Baxter, the proprietor of a small engineering work in the district. The man, who never came to church, on what he called "principle," but spent his Sundays in bed with a sporting paper, was one of those half-educated people who condemn Christianity by ridiculing the Old Testament stories.
They walked together, Baxter quoting the Origin of Species, which he knew from a cheap epitomised handbook.
“Do you really think, Mr. Byars," he had said, “ do you really believe, after Darwin's discovery, that we were made by a sort of conjuring trick by a Supreme Power ? Seven days of cooking, so to speak, and then a world! Why, it's childish to expect thinking people to believe it. We are simply evolved by scientific evolution out of the primæval protoplasm."
“Very possibly," said the vicar; "and who made the protoplasm, Mr. Baxter ?” *The man was silent for a minute. “Then, Mr. Byars,”
he said at length, “you do not believe the Old Testament—the Adam and Eve part, for instance. You do not believe the Book on which your creed is founded.”
There are such things as allegories," he had answered. “The untutored brain must be taught the truth in such a way as it can receive it."
The vicar lit his pipe and began to open his letters with a slight sigh. Of all men, he sometimes felt, he was the least possible one for Walktown. For twelve years he had worked there, and he seemed to make little headway.
He longed for an educated congregation. Here methods too vulgar for his temperament seemed to be the only ones.
The letters were all from applicants for the curacy which Gortre's impending departure would shortly leave vacant.
“It will be a terrible wrench to lose Basil," he said to himself ; “ but it must be. He will have his chance and be far happier in London, in more congenial environment. He would never be a great success in Walktown. He has tried nobly, but the people won't understand him. They would never like him; he's too much of a gentleman. How they all hate breeding in Walktown! There is nothing for it, I can see.
I must get an inferior man this time. An inferior man will go down with them better here. I only hope he will be a really good fellow. If he is n't, it will be Jerrold over again-vulgar cabals against me, and all the women in the place quarrelling and taking sides.”
He read letter after letter, and saw, with a humorous shrug of disgust, that he would have little difficulty in engaging the “inferior" man of his thoughts,
The best men would not come to the North. Men of family with decent degrees, Oxford men, Cambridge men, accustomed to decent society and intellectual
friends, knew far too much to accept a title in the Manchester district.
The applications were numerous enough, but obviously from second-rate men, or at any rate from men who appeared to be so at first glance.
A Durham graduate, 40, with five children, begged earnestly for the £120 a year which was all Mr. Byars could offer. A few young men from theological colleges wanting titles, a Dublin B.A., announcing himself
thoroughly Protestant in views"—they were a weary lot. A non-collegiate student from Oxford with a second class in Theology, a Manchester Grammar-School boy, whose father lived at Higher Broughton, seemed to promise the best. He would be able to get on with the people, probably. “I suppose I must have him, accent and all,” the vicar said with a sigh," though I suppose it's prejudice to dislike the lessons read with the Lancashire broad 'a' and short o.' St. Paul probably spoke with a terrible local twang! and yet, I don't know, he was too great to be vulgar; one doesn't like to think that
Mr. Byars was certainly a difficult person for his congregation to appreciate.
He picked up the letter and was re-reading it when the door opened and his daughter came in.
Helena Byars was a tall girl, largely made and yet slender. Her hair was luxuriant and of a traditional “heroine " gold. She was dressed with a certain richness, though soberly enough, a style which, with its slight hint of austerity, accentuated a quiet and delicate charm. So one felt on meeting her for the first time. Sweet-faced she was and with an underlying seriousness even in her times of laughter. Her mouth was rather large, her nose straight and beautifully chiselled. The eyes were placid, intelligent, but without keenness. There was an almost matronly dignity about her quiet and yet decided manner.
The vicar looked up at her with a smile, thinking how like her mother the girl was—that grave and gracious lady who looked out of the picture by the door, St. Cecilia in form and face. “Eh, but Helena she favours her mother," Hinchcliffe, the sexton, had said with the frank familiarity of the Lancashire workman soon after Mrs. Byars's funeral four years ago.
"I've brought Punch, father," she said, “it's just come. Leave your work now and enjoy yourself for half an hour before dinner. Basil will be here by the time you're finished.”
She stirred the fire into a bright glow, and, singing softly to herself, left the study and went into the diningroom to see that the table looked inviting for the coming meal.
About seven o'clock Gortre arrived, and soon afterwards the three sat down to dine. It was a simple meal, some fish, cold beef, and a pudding, with a bottle of beer for the curate and a glass of claret for the vicar. The housemaid did not wait upon them, for they found the meal more intimate and enjoyable without her. “I've got some news,” said Gortre.
The great question of domicile is settled. You know there is no room in the clergy-house at St. Mary's. Moreover, Father Ripon thought it well that I should live outside. He wanted one of the assistant clergy, at least, to be in constant touch with lay influences, he said when I saw him." “What have you arranged, dear?" said Helena.
Something very satisfactory, I think,” he answered. “My first thought was to take ordinary rooms in Bloomsbury. It would be near St. Mary's and the schools. Then I thought of chambers in one of the Inns of Court. At any rate I wrote to Harold Spence to ask his