« PoprzedniaDalej »
clergyman found a great refreshment in the fact that, in an age of indifference, at a time when the best intellects of younger London life were professedly agnostic, Harold Spence was an avowed Christian and Churchman. As Gortre got to know him better, when the silence and detachment of midnight in the old Inn broke down reticence, he realised with a sense of thankfulness, and sometimes of fear also, how a thorough belief in religion kept the writer straight and captain of his own soul.
For the man was a creature of strong passions and wayward desires. He had not always been the clean gentleman of the present. As is so often the case with a refined and cultured temperament, he had a dark and ugly side to his nature. The coarse vices of the blood called to him long and often with their hollow siren voices. Evil came to him with swift invitation and cunning allurement. He had hinted to Basil of days of sin and secret shame. And now, very soberly and without any emotion, he clung to Christ for help.
And he had conquered.
This was ever a glorious fact to Basil, another miracle in those thousands of daily miracles which were happening all around him. But his fear for Harold came from his realisation of his friend's exact spiritual grip. Spence's Christianity was rather too utilitarian for safety. Perhaps the deep inward conviction was weak. It seemed sometimes as if it were a barren, thorny thing—too much fetish, too much a return for benefits received, a sort of half-conscious bargain. He often prayed long that nothing should ever occur to shake Spence's belief; for he felt, if that should happen, the disaster would prove irreparable. A dammed river is a dangerous thing.
But he kept all these thoughts locked in his heart, and never spoke of them to Harold.
Since the evening of his first sermon he had never seen Schuabe again. Now and then the thought of him passed through his brain, and his mental sight seemed obscured for a moment, as though great wings hid the sun from him. But since the silent duel in the church, the curious and malign influence of the millionaire had waned. It was prominent no longer, and when it troubled him it did so without power and force. Fine health, the tonic of constant work, the armour of continual prayer, had their way
and were able to banish much of what he now looked back on as morbidity, sinister though it had been.
Nevertheless, one thing often reminded him of that night. The dark, Jewish-looking lady he had seen sitting in the same pew with Schuabe often came to church on Sunday nights when he was preaching. The bold and insolently beautiful face looked up at him with steady interest. The fierce regard had something passionate and yet wistful in it.
Sometimes Basil found himself preaching almost directly to the face and soul of the unknown woman. There was an understanding between them. He knew it; he felt it most certainly.
Sometimes she would remain in her seat after the mass of the congregation had shuffled away into the night. She did not pray, but sat still, with her musing eyes fixed on the huge ten-foot crucifix that swung down from the chancel arch.
Once, as he passed the pew on the way to baptise the child of a poor woman of the streets-brought in furtively after the Sunday evensong—she made a movement as if to speak to him. He had waited in expectation for a moment, but she remained still, and he passed on to the font, with its sad cluster of outcasts, its dim gas-jets, and the tiny child of shame with its thin cry of distress.
He was asking the tremendous question
“Dost thou, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?"
when he saw that the unknown woman was standing by within the shadow of a pillar. A gleam of yellow light fell through the dark on her rich dress, her eye glittered behind her white veil. He thought there was a tear in it. But when he was saying the exhortation he saw that the tall, silent figure had departed.
He often wondered who the woman was,-if he should ever know her.
Something told him that she wanted help. Something assured him that he should some day give it to her.
And beyond this there was an unexplained conviction within him that the stranger was in some way concerned and bound up in the part he was to play in life.
Long ago he had realised that it was idle to deny the interference of supernatural personalities in human life. Accepting the Incarnation, he accepted the Communion of Saints. And he was always conscious of hidden powers moulding, directing him.
The episode of the cigarettes happened in this way.
Stokes, one of Gortre's fellow-curates, came to supper one night in Lincoln's Inn.
Spence was there also, as it was one of his free nights.
About ten o'clock supper was over and they proposed to have a little music. Stokes was a fine pianist, and he had brought some of the nocturnes and ballads of Chopin with him, to try on the little black-cased piano which stood at an obtuse angle with the end of the large sitting
“Will you smoke, Stokes?" Spence said. “Thank you, I 'll have a cigarette,” the young man replied. “I can't stand cigars, and I 've left my pipe at the Clergy House.'
They looked for cigarettes in the silver box lined with cedar which stood on the mantel-shelf, but some one had smoked them all and the box was empty.
"Never mind," Spence said; “I've been meaning to run out and get a late Westminster and I 'll buy some cigarettes, too. There 's a shop at the Holborn end of the Lane, next to the shop where the oysters come from, and it won't be shut yet.”
In a few minutes he came back with several packets of cigarettes in his hand. "I've brought Virginian," he said; “I know you can't stand Egyptian, none of us can, and if these are cheap, they 're good, too."
Till eleven o'clock Stokes played to them-Chopin's wild music of melancholy and fire-and as the hour struck he went home.
Gortre and Spence sat and talked casually after he had gone, about the music they had heard, the cartoon in the evening paper, anything that came.
Basil had not been smoking during the evening. He had been too intent upon the nocturnes, and now he felt a want of tobacco. One of the packets of cigarettes lay by him on the table. He pulled up the flaps and took
Without thinking what he was doing he drew a little photograph, highly finished and very clear, from the tiny cardboard case.
He glanced at it casually.
The thing was one of those pictures of burlesque actresses which are given away with this kind of tobacco. A tall girl with short skirts and a large picture hat was shown in a coquettish attitude that was meant to be full of invitation.
Basil looked at it steadily with a curious expression on his face. Then he took a large reading-glass from the table and examined it again, magnifying it to many times its original size.
He scrutinised it with great care. It was the portrait of the strange girl who came to St. Mary's.
Basil had told Spence of this woman, and now he passed the photograph on to him.
Harold, that is the girl who comes to church and looks so unhappy. She is an actress, of course. The name is underneath-Miss Gertrude Hunt. Who is Miss Gertrude Hunt?” Spence took the thing. “How very queer!
"” he said, “to find your unknown like this. Gertrude Hunt? Why, she is a well-known musical comedy girl, sings and dances at the Regent, you know. There are all the usual stories about the lady, but possibly they are all lies. I'm sure I don't know. I've chucked that sort of society long ago.
Are you sure it 's the same person?” "Oh, quite sure! Of course, this shows the girl in a different dress and so on, but it 's she without a doubt. I am glad she comes to church. It is not what one expects from what one hears of that class of woman, and it 's not what one generally finds in the parish."
He sighed, thinking of the many chilling experiences of the last few months in the vice-haunted streets and squares of Bloomsbury.
“Well,” said Spence, “experiments with that type are generally failures, and sometimes dangerous to the experimenter. You remember Anatole France's Thais ? But this damsel is no Thais certainly, and you are n't a bit like Paphuntius. I hope you will be able to do some good. Personally, anything of the sort would be quite impossible to me. Good-night, old man. I'm going to turn in.
I've a hard day's work to-morrow. Sleep well.''
He went out of the room with a yawn.