PHYLLIS OF PHILISTIA
By Frank Frankfort Moore
AN ASTRONOMER WITHOUT A TELESCOPE.
"After all," said Mr. Ayrton, "what is marriage?"
"Ah!" sighed Phyllis. She knew that her father had become possessed of a phrase, and that he was anxious to flutter it before her to see how it went. He was a connoisseur in the bric-a-brac of phrases.
"Marriage means all your eggs in one basket," said he.
"Ah!" sighed Phyllis once more. She wondered if her father really thought that she would be comforted in her great grief by a phrase. She did not want to know how marriage might be defined. She knew that all definitions are indefinite. She knew that in the case of marriage everything depends upon the definer and the occasion.
"So you see there is no immediate cause to grieve, my dear," resumed her father.
She did not quite see that this was the logical conclusion of the whole matter; but that was possibly because she was born a woman, and felt that marriage is to a woman what a keel is to a ship.
"I think there is a very good cause to grieve when we find a man like George Holland turning deliberately round from truth to falsehood," said Phyllis sternly.
"And what's worse, running a very good chance of losing his living," remarked the father. "Of course it will have to be proved that Moses and Abraham and David and the rest of them were not what he says they were; and it strikes me that all the bench of bishops, and a royal commissioner or two thrown in, would have considerable difficulty in doing that nowadays."
"What! You take his part, papa?" she cried, starting up. "You take his part? You think I was wrong to tell him—what I did tell him?"
"I don't take his part, my dear," said Mr. Ayrton. "I think that he's a bit of a fool to run his head into a hornet's nest because he has come to the conclusion that Abraham's code of morality was a trifle shaky, and that Samson was a shameless libertine. Great Heavens! has the man got no notion of the perspective of history?"
"Perspective? History? It's the Bible, papa!"
Indignation was in Phyllis' eyes, but there was a reverential tone in her voice. Her father looked at her—listened to her. In the pause he thought:
"Good Heavens! What sort of a man is George Holland, who is ready to relinquish the love and loveliness of that girl, simply because he thinks poorly of the patriarchs?"
"He attacks the Bible, papa," resumed Phyllis gravely. "What horrible things he said about Ruth!"
"Ah, yes, Ruth—the heroine of the harvest festival," said her father. "Ah, he might have left us our Ruth. Besides, she was a woman. Heavens above! is there no chivalry remaining among men?"
"Ah, if it was only chivalry! But—the Bible!"
"Quite so—the—yes, to be sure. But don't you think you may take the Bible too seriously, Phyllis?"
"Oh, papa! too seriously?"
"Why not? That's George Holland's mistake, I fear. Why should he work himself to a fury over the peccadillos of the patriarchs? The principle of the statute of limitations should be applied to such cases. If the world, and the colleges of theology, have dealt lightly with Samson and David and Abraham and Jacob and the rest of them for some thousands of years, why should George Holland rake up things against them, and that, too, on very doubtful evidence? But I should be the last person in the world to complain of the course which he has seen fit to adopt, since it has left you with me a little longer, my dearest child. I did not, of course, oppose your engagement, but I have often asked myself what I should do without you? How should I ever work up my facts, or, what is more important, my quotations, in your absence, Phyllis? On some questions, my dear, you are a veritable Blue-book—yes, an edition de luxe of a Blue-book."
"And I meant to be so useful to him as well," said Phyllis, taking her father's praises more demurely than she had taken his phrases. "I meant to help him in his work."
"Ah, what a fool the man is! How could any man in his senses give up a thing of flesh and blood like you, for the sake of proving or trying to prove, that some people who lived five or six thousand years ago—if they ever lived at all—would have rendered themselves liable to imprisonment, without the option of a fine, if they lived in England since the passing of certain laws—recent laws, too, we must remember!"
"Anyhow, you have done with him, my dear. A man who can't see that crime is really a question of temperament, and sin invariably a question of geography—well, we'll say no more about it. At what hour did you say he was coming?"
"Four. I don't think I shall break down."
"Break down? Why on earth should you break down? You have a mind to know, and you know your own mind. That's everything. But of course you've had no experience of matters of this sort. He was your first real lover?"
Phyllis' face became crimson. She retained sufficient presence of mind, however, to make a little fuss with the window-blind before letting it down. Her father stared at her for a moment, and there was rather a long pause before he laughed.
"I said 'real lover,' my dear," he remarked. "The real lover is the one who talks definitely about dates and the house agent's commission. As a rule the real lover does not make love. True love is born, not made. But you—Heavens above! perhaps I did an injustice to you—to you and to the men. Maybe you're not such a tyro after all, Phyllis."
Phyllis gave a very pretty little laugh—such a laugh as would have convinced any man but a father—perhaps, indeed, some fathers—that she was not without experience. Suddenly she became grave. Her father never loved her so dearly as when that little laugh was flying over her face, leaving its living footprints at the corners of her eyes, at the exquisite curve of her mouth. It relieved her from the suspicion of priggishness to which, now and again, her grave moods and appropriate words laid her open. She was not so proper, after all, her father now felt; she was a girl with the experiences of a girl who has tempted men and seen what came of it.
"It is a very serious thing, giving a man your promise and then——"
"Then finding that your duty to him—to him, mind—forces you to tell him that you cannot carry out that promise," said her father. "Yes, it is a very serious thing, but not so serious as carrying out that promise would be if you had even the least little feeling that at the end of three months he was not a better man than you suspected he was at the beginning. There's a bright side to everything, even a honeymoon; but the reason that a honeymoon is so frequently a failure is because the man is bound to be found out by his wife inside the month. It is better that you found out now, than later on, that you could not possibly be happy with a man who spoke slightingly of the patriarchs and their wives. Now I'll leave you, with confidence that you will be able to explain matters to Mr. Holland."
"What! you won't be here?"
Dismay was in the girl's face as she spoke. She had clearly looked for the moral support of her father's presence while she would be making her explanation to the man whom she had, a few months before, promised to marry, but whom she had found it necessary to dismiss by letter, owing to her want of sympathy in some of his recent utterances.
"You won't be here?"
"No; I have unfortunately an engagement just at that hour, Phyllis," replied Mr. Ayrton. "But do you really think there is any need for me to be here? Personally, I fancy that my presence would only tend to complicate matters. Your own feeling, your own woman's instinct, will enable you to explain—well, all that needs explanation. I have more confidence in your capacity to explain since you gave that pretty little laugh just now. Experience—ah, the experience of a girl such as you are, suggests an astronomer without a telescope. Still, there were astronomers before there were telescopes; and so I leave you, my beloved child—ah, my own child once again! No cold hand of a lover is now between us."
It was not until he was some distance down Piccadilly that it occurred to him that he should have pictured the lover with a warm hand; and that omission on his part caused him a greater amount of irritation than anyone who was unaware of his skill in phrase-making could have thought possible to arise from a lapse apparently so trifling.
It was not until he had reached the Acropolis and had referred, in the hearing of the most eminently dull of the many distinguished members of that club, to the possibility of a girl's experiences of man being likened to an astronomer without a telescope, that he felt himself again.
The dull distinguished man had smiled.
HE KNEW THAT IT WAS A TROUBLESOME PROCESS, BECOMING A GOOD CLERGYMAN, SO HE DETERMINED TO BECOME A GOOD PREACHER INSTEAD.
Phyllis sat alone in one of the drawing rooms, waiting until the hour of four should arrive and bring into her presence the Rev. George Holland, to plead his cause to her—to plead to be returned to her favor. He had written to her to say that he would make such an attempt.
She had looked on him with favor for several months—with especial favor for three months, for three months had just passed since she had promised to marry him, believing that to be the wife of a clergyman who, though still young, had two curates to do the rough work for him—clerical charwomen, so to speak—would make her the happiest of womankind. Mr. Holland was rector of St. Chad's, Battenberg Square, and he was thought very highly of even by his own curates, who intoned all the commonplace, everyday prayers in the liturgy for him, leaving him to do all the high-class ones, and to repeat the Commandments. (A rector cannot be expected to do journeyman's work, as it were; and it is understood that a bishop will only be asked to intone three short prayers, those from behind a barrier, too; an archbishop refuses to do more than pronounce the benediction.)
The Rev. George Holland was a good-looking man of perhaps a year or two over thirty. He did not come of a very good family—a fact which probably accounted for his cleverness at Oxford and in the world. He was a Fellow of his college, though he had not been appointed rector of St. Chad's for this reason. The appointment, as is well known (in the Church, at any rate), is the gift of the Earl of Earlscourt, and it so happened that, when at college together, George Holland had saved the young man who a year or two afterward became Earl of Earlscourt from a very great misfortune. The facts of the case were these: Tommy Trebovoir, as he was then, had made up his mind to marry a lady whose piquant style of beauty made the tobacconist's shop where she served the most popular in town. By the exercise of a great deal of diplomacy and the expenditure of a little money, Mr. Holland brought about a match between her and quite another man—a man who was not even on a subsidiary path to a peerage, and whose only connection with the university was due to his hiring out horses to those whom he called the "young gents." Tommy was so indignant with his friend for the part he had played in this transaction he ceased to speak to him, and went the length of openly insulting him. Six years afterward, when he had become Earl of Earlscourt, and had espoused the daughter of a duke,—a lady who was greatly interested in the advance of temperance,—he had presented George Holland with the living at St. Chad's.
People then said that Lord Earlscourt was a lesser fool than some of his acts suggested. Others said that the Rev. George Holland had never been a fool, though he had been a Fellow of his college.
They were right. George Holland knew that it was a troublesome process becoming a good clergyman, so he determined to become a good preacher instead. In the course of a year he had become probably the best-known preacher (legitimate, not Dissenting) in London, and that, too, without annoying the church-wardens of St. Chad's by drawing crowds of undesirable listeners to crush their way into the proprietary sittings, and to join in the singing and responses, and to do other undesirable acts. No, he only drew to the church the friends of the said holders, whose contributions to the offertory were exemplary.
His popularity within a certain circle was great; but, as Lord Earlscourt was heard to say, "He never played to the pit."
He was invited to speak to a resolution at a Mansion House meeting to express indignation at the maintenance of the opium traffic in China.
He was also invited by the Countess of Earlscourt to appear on the platform to meet the deputation of Chinese who represented the city meeting held at Pekin in favor of local option in England; for the great national voice of China had pronounced in favor of local option in England.
Shortly afterward he met Phyllis Ayrton, and had asked her to marry him, and she had consented.
And now Phyllis was awaiting his coming to her, in order that he might learn from her own lips what he had already learned from the letter which he had received from her the day before; namely, that she found it necessary for her own peace of mind to break off her engagement with him.
Phyllis Ayrton had felt for some months that it would be a great privilege for any woman to become the wife of a clergyman. Like many other girls who have a good deal of time for thought,—thought about themselves, their surroundings, and the world in general,—she had certain yearnings after a career. But she had lived all her life in Philistia, and considered it to be very well adapted as a place of abode for a proper-minded young woman; in fact, she could not imagine any proper-minded young woman living under any other form of government than that which found acceptance in Philistia. She had no yearning to startle her neighbors. With a large number of young women, the idea that startling one's neighbors is a career by itself seems to prevail just at present; but Phyllis had no taste in this direction. Writing a book and riding a bicycle were alike outside her calculations of a scheme of life. Hospital nursing was nothing that she would shrink from; at the same time, it did not attract her; she felt that she could dress quite as becomingly as a hospital nurse in another way.
She wondered, if it should come to the knowledge of the heads of the government of Philistia that she had a yearning to become the wife of a clergyman, would they regard her as worthy to be conducted across the frontier, and doomed to perpetual expatriation. When she began to think out this point, she could not but feel that if she were deserving of punishment,—she looked on expulsion from Philistia as the severest punishment that could be dealt out to her, for she was extremely patriotic,—there were a good many other young women, and women who were no longer young, who were equally culpable. She had watched the faces of quite a number of the women who crowded St. Chad's at every service, and she had long ago come to the conclusion that the desire to become the wife of a clergyman was an aspiration which was universally distributed among the unmarried women of the congregation.
She knew so much, but she was not clever enough to know that it was her observance of this fact that confirmed her in her belief that it would be a blessed privilege for such a woman as she to become the wife of such a clergyman as George Holland. She was not wise enough to be able to perceive that a woman marries a man not so much because she things highly of marriage—although she does think highly of it; not so much because she thinks highly of the man—though she may think highly of him, but simply because she sees that other women want to marry him.
In three months she considered herself blessed among women. She was the one chosen out of all the flock. She did not look around her in church in pride of conquest; but she looked demurely down to her sacred books, feeling that all the other women were gazing at her in envy; and she felt that there was no pride in the thought that the humility of her attitude—downcast eyes, with long lashes shading half her cheeks, meekly folded hands—was the right one to adopt under the circumstances.
And then she saw several of the young women who had been wearing sober shades of dresses for some years,—though in their hearts (and she knew it) they were passionately attached to colors,—appearing like poppies once more, and looking very much the better for the change, too; and she felt that it was truly sad for young women to—well, to show their hands, so to speak. They might have waited for some weeks before returning to the colors of the secular.
She did not know that they felt that they had wasted too much time in sober shades already. The days are precious in a world in which no really trustworthy hair dye may be bought for money.
And then there came to her a month of coldly inquisitive doubt. (This was when people had ceased to congratulate her and to talk, the nice ones, of the great cleverness of George Holland; the nasty ones, of the great pity that so delightful a man did not come of a better family.)
Why should she begin to ask herself if she really loved George Holland; if the feeling she had for him should be called by the name of love, or by some other name that did not mean just the same thing? Of course she had thought a good deal—though her father did not know it—of love. She had seen upon other people the effect of the possession of this gift of love, how it had caused them to forget pain and poverty, and shame, and infamy, and God, and death, and hell. Ah! that was love—that was love! and she had hoped that one day such a gift of love would be given to her; for it was surely the thing that was best worth having in the world! Once or twice she had fancied that it was at the point of being given to her. There had been certain thrilling passages between herself and two men,—an interval of a year between each,—and there had also been a kiss in an alcove designed by her dearest friend, Ella Linton, for the undoing of mankind, a place of softened lights and shadowy palms. It was her recollection of these incidents that had caused her to fumble with the blind cord when her father had been suggesting to her the disadvantages of inexperience in matters of the heart. But the incidents had led to nothing, except, perhaps, a week or two of remorse. But she could not help feeling, when that month of curious doubt was upon her, that the little thrill which she had felt when one man had put his arm around her for an instant, when another man—he was very young—had put his lips upon her mouth—it was a straightforward kiss—suggested a nearer approach to love than she had yet been conscious of in the presence of George Holland. (He had never done more than kiss her hand. Is it on record that any man did more when dressed with the severity of the cleric?)
This was a terrible impression for a young woman to retain before her engagement to a man has passed into its third month. Then she began to wonder if all her previous ideas—all her previous aspirations—were mistaken. She began to wonder if this was the reality of love—this conviction that there was nothing in the whole world that she would welcome with more enthusiasm than an announcement on the part of her father that he was going on a voyage to Australia, and that he meant to take her with him.
Well, then she threw herself upon her bed and wept for an hour one evening, and for two hours (at intervals) another evening; and then looked up the old published speeches made by a certain cabinet minister in his irresponsible days, on a question which he had recently introduced. Her father was bitterly opposed to the most recent views of the minister, and was particularly anxious to confront him with his own phrases of thirty years back. She spent four hours copying out the words which were now meant by Mr. Ayrton to confound the utterer.
THE BISHOP KNEW SOMETHING OF MAN, AND HE KNEW SOMETHING OF THE CHURCH; HE EVEN KNEW SOMETHING OF THE BIBLE.
Her father when he came in commended her diligence. He read over those damning extracts, punctuating them with chuckles; he would make an example of that minister who had found it convenient to adopt a course diametrically opposed to the principle involved in his early speeches. He chuckled, reading the extracts while he paced the room, drawing upon his stock of telling phrases, which were calculated to turn the derision of the whole House of Commons upon his opponent.
Thus, being very well satisfied with himself, he was satisfied with her, and kissed her, with a sigh.
"What a treasure you are to me, dearest one!" he said. There was a pause before he added, in a contemplative tone:
"I suppose a clergyman has no need ever to hunt up the past deliverances of another clergyman in order to confound him out of his own mouth. Ah, no; I should fancy not."
Regret was in his voice. He seemed to suggest to her that he believed her powers would be wasted as the wife of a man who, of course, being a clergyman, could have no enemies.
"Dearest papa!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms, and sobbing on his shirt front, "dearest papa, I will not leave you. I don't want to be anyone's wife. I want to be your daughter—only to be your daughter."
He comforted her with kisses and soothing smoothings of the hair. No, no, he said; he would not be selfish. He would remember that a father was the trustee of his child's happiness.
"But I know I can only be happy with you, my father!" she cried; but it was of no avail. He, being a father and not a mother, was unable to perceive what was in the girl's heart. He considered it quite natural that she should be a trifle hysterical in anticipating her new life—that strange untraveled country! Ah, is there anything more pathetic, he thought, than a girl's anticipations of wifehood? But he would do his duty, and he fancied that he was doing his duty when he put aside her earnest, almost passionate protestations, and told her how happy she would be with the man who was lucky enough to have won the pure treasure of her love.
What could she do? The terrible doubts of that month of doubting broadened into certainties. She knew that she did not love George Holland; but she had not the courage to face Philistia as the girl who did not know her own mind. Philistia was very solid on such points as the sacredness of an engagement between a man and a woman. It was a contract practically as abiding as marriage, in the eyes of Philistia; and, indeed, Phyllis herself had held this belief, and had never hesitated to express it. So nothing was left to her but to marry George Holland. After all, he was a brilliant and distinguished man, and had not a score of other girls wanted to marry him? Oh, she would marry him and give up her life to the splendid duties which devolve upon the wife of a clergyman.
But just as she had made up her mind to face her fate, Mr. Holland's fate induced him to publish the book at which he had been working for some time. It came out just when the girl was becoming resigned to her future by his side, and it attracted even more attention than the author had hoped it would achieve.
The book was titled "Revised Versions," and it was strikingly modern in design and in tone. It purported to deal with several personages and numerous episodes of the Old Testament, not from the standpoint of the comparative philologist; not from the standpoint of the comparative mythologist, but from the standpoint of the modern man of common sense and average power of discrimination; and the result was that the breath of a good many people, especially clergymen, was taken from them, and that the Rev. George Holland became the best-known clergyman in England.
He dealt with the patriarchs in succession, and they fared very badly at his hands. He showed that Abraham had not one good act recorded to his credit, and contrasted his duplicity with the magnanimity of the ruler of Egypt whom he visited. He dwelt upon the Hagar episode, showing that the adulterer was also a murderer by intention, and so forth; while no words could be too strong to apply to Sara, his wife. Isaac did not call for elaborate notice. He could not be accused of any actual crime, but if he was a man of strong personality, he was singularly unfortunate in having failed to impart to his wife any of that integrity which he may have practiced through life. Her methods of dealing with him after they had lived together for a good many years were criminal, considering the largeness of the issue at stake as the result of his blessing. As for Jacob, not a single praiseworthy act of his long life was available to his biographer. His career was that of the most sordid of hucksters. Of eleven of his sons nothing good is told, but Joseph was undoubtedly an able and exemplary man; the only thing to his discredit being his utter callousness regarding the fate of his father, after he had attained to a high position in Egypt.
The chapter on the patriarchs was followed by one that dealt with the incidents of the Exodus. The writer said that he feared that even the most indulgent critic must allow that the whole scheme of Moses was a shocking one; but he was probably the greatest man that ever lived on the face of the earth, if he was the leader and organizer of a band of depredators who for bloodthirst and rapacity had no parallel in history. How could it be expected that a kingdom founded upon the massacre of men and cemented by the blood of women and children should survive? It had survived only as example to the world of the impossibility of a permanent success being founded upon the atrocious methods pursued by the worst of the robber states of the East. While civilization had been spreading on all sides of them, the people of Israel had remained the worst of barbarians, murdering the men who had from time to time arisen to try and rescue them from the abysses of criminality into which they had fallen,—abysses of criminality and superstition,—until they had filled their cup of crime by the murder of the One whom the world worships to-day.
Incidentally, of course, the character of Samson was dealt with. Delilah was shown to be one of the most heroic of womankind, making greater sacrifices through her splendid patriotism than Joan of Arc. But Samson——
Ruth was also dealt with incidentally. She was the woman who expresses her willingness to give up her God at the bidding of another woman, and who had entered into a plot with that same woman to entrap a man whom they looked to support them.
Then there was David. It was not the Bath-sheba episode, but the Abishag, that the author treated at length—one of the most revolting transactions in history, especially as there is some reason to believe that the unfortunate girl was, when it was perpetrated, already attached to one of the sons of the loathsome, senile sensualist.
Perhaps, on the whole, it was not surprising that after the publication of this book the Rev. George Holland became the best-known clergyman in England, or that the breath of bishops should be taken from them. So soon as some of them recovered from the first brunt of the shock, they met together and held up their hands, saying that they awaited the taking of immediate action by the prelate within whose see St. Chad's was situated. But that particular prelate was a man who had never been known to err on the side of rapidity of action. Nearly a week had passed before he made any move in the matter, and then the move he made was in the direction of the Engadine. He crossed the Channel with the book under his arm. He determined to read it at his leisure. Being a clergyman, he could not, of course, be expected to have examined, from any standpoint but that of the clergyman, the characters of the persons dealt with in the book, and he was naturally shocked at the freedom shown by the rector of St. Chad's in criticising men whose names have been held in the highest esteem for some thousands of years. He at once perceived that the rector of St. Chad's had been very narrow-minded in his views regarding the conduct of the men whom he had attacked. It occurred to him, as it had to Mr. Ayrton, that the writer had drawn his picture without any regard for perspective. That was very foolish on the part of a man who was a Fellow of his college, the bishop thought; and besides, there was no need for the book—its tendency was not to help the weaker brethren. But to assume that the book would, as some newspaper articles said it would, furnish the most powerful argument that had yet been brought forward in favor of the Disestablishment of Church, was, he thought, to assume a great deal too much. The Church that had survived Wesley, Whitefield, Colenso, Darwin, and Renan would not succumb to George Holland. The bishop recollected how the Church had bitterly opposed all the teaching of the men of wisdom whose names came back to him; and how it had ended by making their teaching its own. Would anyone venture to assert that the progress of Christianity was dependent upon what people thought of the acceptance by David of the therapeutic course prescribed for him? Was the morality which the Church preached likely to be jeopardized because Ruth was a tricky young woman?
The bishop knew something of man, and he knew something of the Church, he even knew something of the Bible; and when he came to the chapter in "Revised Versions" that dealt with the episode of Ruth and Boaz, he flung the book into a corner of his bedroom, exclaiming, "Puppy!"
And then there came before his eyes a vision of a field of yellow corn, ripe for the harvest. The golden sunlight gleamed upon the golden grain through which the half-naked brown-skinned men walked with their sickles. The half-naked brown-skinned women followed the binders, gleaning the ears, and among the women was the one who had said, "Entreat me not to leave thee." He had read that old pastoral when he was a child at the knee of his mother. It was surely the loveliest pastoral of the East, and its charm would be in no wise impaired because a man who failed to appreciate the beauty of its simplicity, had almost called Ruth by the worst name that can be applied to a woman.
The bishop did not mind what George Holland called Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Samson, but Ruth—to say that Ruth——
The bishop said "Puppy!" once again. (He had trained himself only to think the adjectives which laymen find appropriate to use in such a case as was under his consideration.)
But he made up his mind to take no action whatever against the Rev. George Holland on account of the book. If the Rev. George Holland fancied that he was to be persecuted into popularity, the Rev. George Holland was greatly mistaken, and the bishop had a shrewd idea that the rector of St. Chad's was greatly mistaken.
(It may be mentioned that he came to this determination when he had read the book through, and found it was so cleverly written that it included no heretical phrase in all its pages.)
But so soon as Phyllis Ayrton had read the first review of the book that fell into her hands, she felt inexpressibly shocked. Great Heavens! Was it possible that she was actually at that moment engaged to marry the man who had written such a book—a book that held up Delilah to admiration, and that abased Ruth? (It was singular how everyone settled upon Ruth in this connection.)
She did not pause to analyze her feelings—to try and find out if she was really so fond of Ruth as to make Ruth's insult her own; but without a moment's delay, without a word of consultation with her father, she sat down at her desk and wrote a letter to George Holland, asking him to release her from her promise to marry him; and adding that if he should decline to do so it would make no difference to her; she would consider the engagement between them at an end all the same.
She felt, when that letter was posted, as if a great weight were lifted from her mind—from her heart. Then a copy of "Revised Versions" arrived for her from the author, and with the ink still wet upon the pen with which she had written that letter to him, she caught up the book and covered it with kisses.
Had he seen that action her lover would have been thoroughly satisfied. A young woman must be very deeply in love with a man when she kisses the cover of a book which he has just published. That is what George Holland would have thought, having but a superficial acquaintance with the motives that sway young women.
Later in the day he had replied to her letter, and had appointed four o'clock on the following afternoon as the hour when he trusted she would find it convenient to see him, in order to give him an opportunity of making an explanation which he trusted would enable her to see that "Revised Versions," so far from being the dreadful book she seemed to imagine it to be, was in reality written with a high purpose.
She had not shrunk from an interview with him. She had sent him a line to let him know that she would be at home at four o'clock; and now she sat in her drawing room and observed, without emotion, that in five minutes that hour would strike.
The clock struck, and before the last tone had died away, the footman announced the Rev. George Holland.
SHE HAD NO RIGHT TO ACCUSE HIM OF READING THE BIBLE DAILY.
Phyllis shook hands with her visitor. He sought to retain her hand, as he had been in the habit of doing, as he stood beside her with something of a proprietary air. He relinquished her hand with a little look of surprise—a sort of pained surprise. She was inexorable. She would not even allow him to maintain his proprietary air.
"Do sit down, Mr. Holland," she said.
"What! 'Mr. Holland' already? Oh, Phyllis!"
He had a good voice, full of expression—something beyond mere musical expression. People (they were mostly women) said that his voice had soul in it, whatever they meant by that.
She made no reply. What reply could she make? She only waited for him to sit down.
"Your letter came as a great shock to me, Phyllis," said he, when he had seated himself, not too close to her. He did not wish her to fancy that he was desirous of having a subtle influence of propinquity as an ally. "A great shock to me."
"A shock?" said she. "A shock, after you had written that book?"
"I fancied you would understand it, Phyllis—you, at least. Of course I expected to be misrepresented by the world—the critics—the clerics—what you will—but you——You had not read it when you wrote that letter to me—that terrible letter. You could not have read it."
"I had only read one notice of it—that was enough."
"And you could write that letter to me solely as the evidence of one wretched print? Oh, Phyllis!"
Pain was in his voice. It may have been in his face as well, but she did not see it; his face was averted from her.
"Yes," she said quietly; "I wrote that letter, Mr. Holland. You see, the paper gave large extracts from the book. I did not come to my conclusion from what the newspaper article said, but from what you had said in your book—from the quoted passages."
"They did not do me justice. I did not look for justice at their hands. But you, Phyllis——"
"I have read your book now, Mr. Holland——"
"Ah, let me plead with you, Phyllis—not 'Mr. Holland,' I entreat of you."
"And my first thought on reading it was that I had not written to you so strongly as I should have done."
"My dear Phyllis, do not say that, I beg of you. You cannot know how you pain me."
"To be misunderstood by you—you."
She got upon her feet so quickly that it might almost be said she sprang up.
"You must have misunderstood me greatly, Mr. Holland, if you fancied that you could write such a book as you wrote and not get such a letter from me. The Bible—Ruth—and you a clergyman—reading it daily in the church——Oh! I cannot tell you all that I thought—all that I still think."
He did not correct the mistake she had made. She had no right to accuse him of reading the Bible daily in his church. He was not in the habit of doing that—it was his curates who did it. He watched her as she stood at a window with her back turned to him. Her hands were behind her. Her breath came audibly, for she had spoken excitedly.
Then he also rose and came beside her.
"I wrote that book, as I believed you would perceive when you had read it, in order to remove from the minds of the people—those people who have not given the matter a thought—the impression—I know it prevails—that our faith—the truth of our religion—is dependent upon the acceptance as good of such persons as our very religion itself enables us to pronounce evil. My aim was to show that our faith is not built upon such a foundation of impurity—of imperfection. The spirit which prevails nowadays—the modern spirit—it is the result of the development of science. This scientific spirit necessitates the consideration of all the elements of our faith from the standpoint of reason."
"If the Church is to appeal to all men, its method must be scientific. It is sad to think of all that the Church has lost in the past through the want of wisdom of those who had its best interests at heart, and believed they were doing it good service by opposing scientific research. They fancied that the faith would not survive the light of truth. They professed to believe that the faith was strong enough to work miracles—to change the heart of man, and yet that it would be jeopardized by the calculations of astronomers. The astronomers were prohibited from calculating; the geologists were forbidden to unearth the mysteries of their science, lest the discovery of the truth should be detrimental to the faith. They believed that the truth was opposed to the faith. Warning after warning the Church received that the two were one; that man would only accept the truth, whether it came from the lips of the churchman or from the investigations of science. Grudgingly the Church became tolerant of the seekers after truth—men who were not greatly concerned in the preservation of the mummy dust of dogma. But how many thousand persons are there not, to-day, who think that the Church is on one side, and the truth on the other? The intolerant attitude of the Church, still maintained in these days, when the spirit of science pervades every form of thought, has been productive of probably the largest body that ever existed in the country, of sensible men and women, who never enter a church door. They want to know whatsoever things are true; they do not want to be dredged with the mummy dust of dogma."
"But the Bible—the Bible!"
"It is necessary for me to tell you all that I feel on this subject; all that I have felt for several years past—ever since I left the divinity school behind me, and went into the world of thinking men and women. It is necessary to tell these men and women in unmistakable language that our faith aims at a perfect type of manhood—at the perfection of truth. It is necessary to tell them that we do not regard, except with abhorrence, such types of men as have for centuries been held up to admiration simply because they have for centuries been the objects of admiration, of imitation, of veneration, on the part of the debased people who gave us the earlier books of the Bible. The memory of Jacob became the dominant influence among the Hebrew nation; hence the continuous curse that rested upon them, the curse that rests upon the cheat, the defrauder of his own household, his brother, his father, his uncle. It is necessary to say that the world should know that our religion is founded upon truth, purity, self-sacrifice—that it abhors the cheat and the sensualist. It is necessary to proclaim to the world our abhorrence of the cult whose highest development was the Pharisee. The aim of the religion of Christ is to produce the perfect man, and to root out the Pharisee. When the Church ceases to connive at falsehood and sensualism; when it openly professes its abhorrence of the religion of the Hebrews; then, and then only, will it become the power in the earth which the exponent of Christianity should become. Humanity had been crying out for the religion of humanity, that is, Christianity, for centuries, but the Church tells it that true religion is an amalgamation of the loveliness of Christianity and the barbarity of Judaism—an impossible amalgamation, and one which millions of poor souls have perished in a vain attempt to accomplish. Humanity wants Christ, and Christ only, and that the Church has hitherto refused to give; hence the millions of thinking men and women, believers in the religion of Christ, who remain forever outside the walls of the Church; hence, also, that terrible record of murder and massacre, perpetrated through long ages with the sanction of the Church. Where, in the religion of Christ, can one find the sanction for massacre? It is nowhere to be found except in the Psalms of the senile sensualist—in the commands of Moses, the leader of the marauders of the desert. Christ swept away the barbarities of the teaching of Moses. He perceived how miserably it had failed; how it had retarded all that was good in man, and sanctioned all that was evil. He perceived how it had kept the nation in a condition of barbarity; how it had made it the prey of the civilized nations around it; how it had made the Hebrew nations the contempt of civilization; and yet the Church that calls itself the Church of Christ has not yet had the courage to offer humanity anything but that impossible task—the amalgamation of the law that came by Moses and the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ."
He spoke with all the fervor of the preacher, with pale face, brilliant eyes, and clenched hands; but in a voice adapted to a drawing room. Phyllis of Philistia could not but admit that, in the phrase of Philistia he had spoken in perfect taste. He had not alluded definitely to the boldness of Ruth or to the calorific course accepted by the aged David. He had spoken in those general terms which are adopted by the clergymen who never err against good taste as defined by the matrons of Philistia.
She did not know whether she admired him or detested him. But she was certain that she did not love him. He might be right in all that he had said, but she had freed herself from him. He might be destined to become one of the most prominent men of the last ten years of the century, but she would never marry him.
She stood face to face with him when he had spoken.
There was a long silence.
A gleam, a very faint gleam of triumph came to his eyes.
"Good-bye," said she, flashing out her hand to him, and with her eyes still fixed upon his face.
IN LOVE THERE ARE NO GOOD-BYES.
He was so startled that he took a step backward. She remained with her hand outstretched.
Was that only the result of the eloquent expression of his views—that outstretched hand which was offered to him for an instant only as a symbol of its withdrawal from him forever?
"You cannot mean——"
"Good-by," said she.
"Have I not explained all that seemed to you to stand in need of explanation?" he asked.
"The book—the book remains. I asked for no explanation," said she.
"But you are too good, too reasonable, to dismiss me in this fashion, Phyllis. Why, even the bishop—would sit upon a fence to see how the book would be received by the public before taking action against the author," was what was in his mind, but he stopped short, and then added a phrase that had no reference to the bishop. "Can you ever have loved me?" was the phrase which he thought should appeal to her more forcibly than any reference to the bishop's sense of what was opportune.
She took back her hand, and her eyes fell at the same moment that her face flushed.
He felt that he had not been astray in his estimate of the controversial value—in the eyes of a girl, of course—of the appeal which he made to her. A girl understands nothing of the soundness of an argument on a Biblical question (or any other), he thought; but she understands an appeal made to her by a man whom she had loved, and whom she therefore loves still, though something may have occurred to make her think otherwise.
"Can you ever have loved me?" he said again, and his voice was now more reproachful.
There was a pause before she said:
"That is the question which I have been asking myself for some time—ever since I read about that book. Oh, please, Mr. Holland, do not stay any longer! Cannot you see that if, after you have made an explanation that should satisfy any reasonable person, I still remain in my original way of thinking, I am not the woman who should be your wife?"
"You would see with my eyes if you were my wife," he said, and he believed that she would, so large an amount of confidence had he in his own power to dominate a woman.
"Ah!" she said, "you have provided me with the strongest reason why I should never become your wife, Mr. Holland."
"Do not say that, Phyllis!" he cried, in a low voice, almost a piteous voice. "I must have you with me in this great work which I feel has been given me to accomplish. I am prepared to make any sacrifice for the cause which I have at heart—the cause to which I mean to devote the rest of my life; but you—you—I must have you with me, Phyllis. Don't give me an answer now. All I ask of you is to think over the whole matter from the standpoint of one who loves the truth, and who does not fear the result of those who are investigators. A few years ago the geologists were regarded as the enemies of the faith. Later the evolutionists were looked on with abhorrence. Had any clergyman ventured to assent to that doctrine which we now know to be the everlasting truth of the scheme of earthly life propounded by the Creator, he would have been compelled to leave the Church. I do not know what will happen to me, my Phyllis. No, no! do not say anything to me now. All that I ask of you is to think—think—think."
"That is it—that is your modern scientific spirit!" she cried. "You, and such as you, say 'think—think—think' to us—to poor women and men who are asking for comfort, for protection against the evil of the world. You say 'think—think—think,' when you should say pray—pray—pray.' Where are you going to end? you have begun by taking from us our Bible. What do you propose to give us in exchange for it? No—no, don't answer me. I did not mean to enter into the question with you—to enter into any question with you. I have no right to do so."
"You have every right, Phyllis. If I should cause offence to the least of the little ones of the flock with which I have been intrusted, it would be better that a millstone were hanged round my neck and that I were cast into the sea. You have a right to ask and it is laid on me to answer."
"Then I decline to avail myself of the privilege; I will ask you nothing, except to say good-by."
"I will not say it, Phyllis, and I will not hear you say it. Three months ago you told me that you loved me."
"And I fancied that I did, but now——"
"Ah! you think that you have the power to cease loving at a moment's notice? You will find out your mistake, my child. In love there are no good-bys. I take your hand now, but not to say good-by; I feel that you are still mine—that you will be mine more than ever when you think—think—and pray."
"Ah! You ask me to pray?"
"Pray—pray for me, child. I need the prayers of such as you, for I feel that my hour of deepest trial is drawing nigh. Do you fancy that I am the man to take back anything that I have written? Look at me, Phyllis; I tell you here that I will stand by everything that I have written. Whatever comes of it, the book remains. Even if I lose all that I have worked for,—even if I lose you,—I will still say 'the book remains.' I am ready to suffer for it. I say in all humility that I believe God will give me grace to die for it."
She had given him her hand. He was still holding it when he spoke his final sentence, looking, not into her face, but into a space beyond it. His eyes more than suggested the eyes of a martyr waiting undaunted for the lighting of the fagots. Suddenly he dropped her hand. He looked for a moment into her face. He saw that the tears were upon it. He turned and walked out of the room without a word.
No word came from her.
He knew that he had left her at exactly the right moment. She was undoubtedly annoyed by the publication of the book; but that was because she had read some reviews of it, and was, girl-like, under the impression that the murmur of the reviewers was the mighty voice that echoes round the world. He felt that she would think differently when his real persecution began. He looked forward with great hope to the result of his real persecution. She would never hold out against that. If the bishop would only take action at once and attempt to deprive him of his pastorate, there was nothing that he might not look for.
And then he reflected that on the following Sunday the church would be crowded to the doors. She would see that. She would see the thousands of the fashionable women—he hoped even for men—who would fill every available seat, every available standing place in the church, and who would all be anxious to hear his defense. That would show her that the publication of this book had raised him far above the heads of the ordinary clergyman who droned away, Sunday after Sunday, in half empty churches to congregations that never became interested. Yes, for many Sundays St. Chad's would be crowded to the doors. And then he trusted that the bishop would take action against him, and in proportion to the severity of his persecution on the one hand would be his popularity on the other hand.
All this would, he felt, advance the cause which he had at heart; for he was thoroughly sincere in his belief that the views which he advocated in "Revised Versions" were calculated to place the Church on a firmer basis, and to cause it to appeal to those persons who, having been inculcated with the spirit of modern scientific inquiry, never entered a church porch.
He had not been guilty of an empty boast when he had expressed to her his readiness to die for the principles which he had enunciated with considerable clearness in his book; but, at the same time, when he was walking down Piccadilly he could not avoid the feeling that if he were only subjected to a vigorous persecution—a high-class persecution, of course, with the bishop at the head of it, he would be almost certain to win back Phyllis. Her desertion of him was undoubtedly a blow to him; but he thought that, after all, it was not unnatural that such as girl as she should be somewhat frightened at the boldness of the book which he had published. He had seen the day, not so very long ago, when he would have been frightened at it himself. At any rate he felt sure that Phyllis would be able to differentiate between the case of the author of "Revised Versions" and the case of the mediocre clergyman who defied his bishop on a question of—what was the question?—something concerning the twirling of his thumbs from east to west, instead of from west to east; yes, or an equally trivial matter. He trusted that she was too discriminating a girl to bracket him with that wretched, shallow-minded person who endeavored to pose as a martyr, because he would not be permitted to do whatever he tried to insist on doing. Mr. Holland thought it had something to say to the twirling of his thumbs at a certain part of the service for the day, but if anyone had said that his memory was at fault—that the contumacious curate only wanted to make some gestures at the psychological, or, perhaps, the spiritual, moment, he would not have been surprised. He had always thought that curate a very silly person. He thanked his God that he was not such a man, and he thought that he might trust Phyllis to understand the difference between the position which he assumed and the posturing of the silly curate.
His knowledge of her powers of discrimination was not at fault. Phyllis never for a moment thought of him as posturing. She did him more than justice. She regarded him as terribly in earnest; no man unless one who was terribly in earnest could have written that book—a book which she felt was bound to alienate from him all the people who had previously honored him and delighted to listen to his preaching. Someone had said in her hearing that the preaching of George Holland was, compared to the preaching of the average clergyman, as the electric light is to the gas—the gas of a street lamp. She had flushed with pleasure,—that had been six months ago,—when it first occurred to her that to be the wife of a distinguished clergyman, who was also a scholar, was the highest vocation to which a woman could aspire. She had told her father of this testimony to the ability of the rector of St. Chad's—pride had been in her voice and eyes.
"The man who said that was a true critic," her father had remarked. "Electric light? Quite so. In the absence of sunlight the electric light does extremely well for the requirements of the average man and woman. Your critic said nothing about volts?"
That was how her father became irritating to her occasionally—leading up to some phrase which he had in his collection of bric-a-brac. "Volts!"
Yes, she felt that the sincerity of George Holland would alienate from him all the people who had previously held him in high esteem. Although she was a daughter of Philistia, it had never occurred to her that there is such a thing as a succes scandale, and that the effect of such an incident in connection with the rector of a fashionable church rarely leads to his isolation.
She did George Holland more than justice, for she could not conceive his looking forward to a crowded and interested attendance at his church on the following Sunday and perhaps many successive Sundays. She could not conceive his thinking what effect the noticing of such an attendance would have upon her. To her, as to most girls, the heroic man is all heroic. The picture of the Duke of Marlborough taking a list of the linen to be sent to the wash while his troops were getting into position for a great battle is one from which they turn away. She could not think of George Holland's calculating upon the effect of a crowded church, with newspaper reporters scattered throughout the building, taking down every word that might fall from his lips. She regarded him as a man who had been compelled, by the insidious influence of what he called scientific thought, to write a shocking book; but one that he certainly believed was destined to effect a great reform in the world. Her eyes had filled with tears as he stood before her with the gleam of martyrdom in his eyes, and for an instant she felt a woman's impulse—that was a factor which George Holland had taken into consideration before he had spoken—to give both her hands to him and to promise to stand by his side in his hour of trial. But she thought of Ruth and restrained herself. Before he had reached the door she thought of him as the man from whom she had managed to escape before it was too late.
She wondered if any of those young women of the church, who had gone back to their butterfly garments on hearing that Mr. Holland had asked her to marry him, would hunt out the sober garments which they had discarded and wear them when they would hear that she was not going to marry Mr. Holland.
She rather thought that they would get new dresses and hats of the right degree of sobriety. Fashions change so quickly between February and May.
And then there was the question of sleeves!
Anyhow they would, she felt, regard themselves as having another chance. That was how they would put it.
Only for an instant did she become thoughtful. Then she sprang to her feet from the sofa on which she had thrown herself when her tears were threatening, and cried:
"Let them have him—let them all have him—all—all!"
That would have been absurd.
IF A GIRL REALLY LOVES A MAN SHE WILL MARRY HIM, EVEN THOUGH HE SHOULD WRITE A BOOK.
Phyllis meant the half hour which would elapse before her tea was brought to her to be a very grateful space. She meant to dwell upon the achievement of her freedom, for the feeling that she was free was very sweet to her. The fetters that had bound her had been flung away, and she now only had a splendid sense of freedom. So sweet was this sense that she made up her mind that in future it would never do for her to run any such risk as that to which she had just subjected herself. How could she ever have been such a fool as to promise to marry George Holland? That was what she was asking herself as she lay back on the pillows of the French sofa, and listened to the soft sound of the carriage wheels of the callers at the other houses in the square.
What a singular wish that was of hers—to become the wife of a clergyman! It seemed very singular to her just now. Just now she did not want to become the wife of anyone, and she hoped that no one would ask her. She did not want the worry of it. Ah, she would be very careful in the future: she would take very good care that the fact of other girls wanting to marry one particular man would not make her anxious to have him all to herself.
Before her resolutions on this very important point had been fully considered in all their bearings, her maid entered to ask if she was at home. The butler had sent a footman to her to make that inquiry, the fact being that her particular friend, Mrs. Linton, had called to see her.
Phyllis jumped up, saying:
"Of course I am home to Mrs. Linton. She will have tea with me."
She went to a glass to see if the tears which had been in her eyes—they had not fallen—had left any traces that the acuteness of Ella Linton might detect. The result of her observation was satisfactory; she would not even need to sit with her back to the light.
Then Mrs. Linton was announced, and flowed into the arms of her friend Phyllis, crying:
"Of course I knew that you would be at home to me, my beloved, even though you might be in the midst of one of those brilliant speeches which you write out for your father to deliver in the House and cause people to fancy that he is the wittiest man in place—so unlike that dreadful teetotal man who grins through the horse collar and thinks that people are imposed on. Now let me look at you, you lucky girl! You are a lucky girl, you know."
"Yes," said Phyllis, "you have called on me. We shall have tea in a minute. How good of you to come to me the first day you arrived in town! How well you are looking, my Ella!"
"So glad you think so," said Ella. "I haven't aged much during the eight months we have been apart. I have had a very good time on the whole, and so had Stephen, though he was with me for close upon a month, poor little man! But it is you, Phyllis, it is you who are the girl of the hour. Heavens! you were farsighted! Who could have imagined that he would become so famous all in a moment? I must confess that when you wrote to me that letter telling me of your engagement, and how happy you were, I was a little cross. I could not clearly see you the wife of a parson, even so presentable a parson as Mr. Holland. Oh, of course I wrote you the usual exuberant letter—what would be the good of doing anything else? But now that he has become famous—Oh, I want you to bring him with you to my first At Home—Tuesday week. It's very short notice, I know, but you must come, and bring him. You are both certain to be in great demand. Why do you shake your head that way? You need not say that you are engaged for Tuesday week."
"I will not say that I am engaged at all, in any sense," said Phyllis, with a very shallow laugh, at laugh that sounded like a ripple among pebbles; her usual laugh was like a ripple upon a silver sand.
"In any sense—for Tuesday week?"
Ella raised her eyebrows to the extent of the eighth of an inch. She lowered them in a moment, however, for the tea was being brought in. It required two able-bodied men (in plush) to carry in a dainty little silver tray, with a little silver tea-pot of a pattern that silversmiths, for reasons which have never been fully explained, call "Queen Anne." One of the men, however, devoted himself to the care of the hot cakes of various subtle types which were inclosed in silver covered dishes.
With the lowering of her eyebrows Mrs. Linton's voice lost its previous inflection.
"I have been fortunate enough to hit upon something distinctly new in that way"—she indicated the muffin dishes. "A cake that may be eaten hot without removing one's gloves."
"What a boon!" cried Phyllis. "You got it at Vienna, of course."
"Of course. You will learn all about it when you come."
The able-bodied men withdrew, and before the door was quite closed behind them, Ella was gazing at her friend, her face alight with inquiry.
"Now pray explain yourself," she whispered. "Not engaged in any sense—those were your words. What do they mean?"
"Take them literally, my Ella," said Phyllis.
"Literally? But you wrote to me that you had engaged yourself to marry Mr. Holland?"
"And now I tell you by word of mouth that I have disengaged myself."
"Good Heavens! You, I fancied, would be the last girl in the world to promise to marry a man and then back out of it."
"That was what I myself fancied up till Monday last."
"But how can you have changed your mind? Isn't it very unfortunate—just when the man has become famous?"
"How could it be otherwise, Ella, when the man wrote so horrible a book as that?"
"Horrible? Is it horrible? I had no idea. I'm no judge of what is horrible in theology, or metaphysics, or whatever it is. But I do profess to know when a man has made a hit, whether in theology or anything else; and I perceive quite clearly that your Mr. Holland—well, not your Mr. Holland, has made a distinct hit. What sort of face is that you're making at me? Oh, I see. It's the face of the orthodox at the mention of something not quite orthodox. Pshut! don't be a goose, Phyllis."
"I don't intend. Have I not told you that I'm not going to marry Mr. Holland?"
"That is like one of the phrases which you give to your father, so that the people might think him clever. Orthodox! Who cares nowadays for what is dully orthodox? Who ever heard of a hero in orthodoxy nowadays? The thing is impossible. There may be, of course, thousands of orthodox heroes, but one never hears anything of them. The planets Jupiter and Saturn and Mercury and Mars and the rest of them come and go at their appointed seasons, and no one ever gives them a second thought, poor old respectable things! but the moment a comet appears in the sky everyone rushes out to gaze at it, and the newspapers deal with it from day to day, and the illustrated papers give its portrait. Nothing could be more unorthodox than your comet. Oh, Phyllis, my child, don't talk nowadays of orthodoxy or the other—what do they call it?—heterodoxy. Mr. Holland's name will be in everyone's mouth for the next year at least, and if his bishop or a friendly church warden prosecutes him, and the thing is worked up properly, he ought to be before the public for the next five years."
"I'm not overstating the case, I assure you, my dear. A man was telling me about one Colenso—he was, so far as I could gather, a first-class man at algebra and heresy and things like that. He was Bishop of Zanzibar or Uganda or some place, and he wrote a book about Moses—showing that Moses couldn't have written something or other. Well, he took a bit of prosecuting, five or six years, I believe, and he didn't go nearly so far as Mr. Holland does in that book of his. All this time people talked about little else but Colenso, and his books made him a fortune. That was before our time, dear—when the newspapers weren't worked as they are now. Block printing has made more heroes than the longest campaign on record. Yes, Mr. Courtland said so two days ago. I think I'll try some more of that lovely cake: it's like warm ice, isn't it? Oh, you'll not be so foolish as to throw over your Mr. Holland."
"It is already done," said Phyllis. "I'm so glad that you like the cake. It is very subtle. What a delightful idea—warm ice!"
"Never mind the cake. I want to hear more of this matter of Mr. Holland," said Ella. "Do you mean to tell me plainly that you threw over Mr. Holland because he wrote a book that will bring him fame and fortune?"
"I have thrown over Mr. Holland because he has written a book to make people have contempt for the Bible," said Phyllis.
"Then all I can say is that you were never in love with the man," cried Ella.
"You may say that if you please."
"I do say it. If a girl really loves a man, she will marry him even though he should write a book against Darwin. If a girl really loves a man she will stand by him all the closer when he is undergoing a course of honorable persecution, with his portrait in every paper that one picks up."
"I dare say that is true enough," assented Phyllis. "Perhaps I never did really love Mr. Holland. Perhaps I only fancied I cared for him because I saw that so many other girls—took to wearing chocolates and grays and kept their sleeves down just when sleeves were highest."
"Of course it was only natural that you should wish to—well, colloquially, to wipe the eyes of the other girls. How many girls, I should like to know, begin to think of a man as a possible husband until they perceive that the thoughts of other girls are turned in his direction?"
"At any rate, whatever I may have done long ago—"
"Three months ago."
"Three months ago. Whatever I may have done then, I know that I don't love him now."
"Don't be too sure, my dear Phyllis. If there is one thing more than another about which a woman should never be positive, it is whether or not she loves a particular man. What mistakes they make! No, I'll never believe that you turned him adrift simply because he wrote something disparagingly about Solomon, or was it David? And I did so want you and him for my next day; I meant it to be such a coup, to have returned to town only a week and yet to have the most outrageously unorthodox parson at my house. Ah, that would indeed have been a coup! Never mind, I can at least have the beautiful girl who, though devoted to the unorthodox parson, threw him over on account of his unorthodoxy."
"Yes, you are certain of me—that is, if you think I should—if it wouldn't seem a little——"
"What nonsense, Phyllis! Where have you been living for the past twenty-three years that you should get such a funny notion into your head? Do you think that girls nowadays absent themselves from felicity awhile when they find it necessary to become—well, disengaged—yes, or divorced, for that matter?"
"I really can't recollect any case of—"
"Of course you can't. They don't exist. The proper thing for a women to do when she gets a divorce is to take a box at a theatre and give the audience a chance of recognizing her from her portraits that have already appeared in the illustrated papers. The block printing has done that too. There's not a theatre manager in London who wouldn't give his best box to a woman who has come straight from the divorce court. The managers recognize the fact that she is in the same line as themselves. But for you, my dear Phyllis—oh, you will never do him the injustice to keep your throwing over of him a secret."
"Injustice? Oh, Ella!"
"I say injustice. Good gracious, child! cannot you see that if it becomes known that the girl who had promised to marry him has broken off her engagement to him simply because he has written that book, the interest that attaches to him on account of his unorthodoxy will be immeasurably increased?"
"I will not do him the injustice of fancying for a moment that he would be gratified on this account. Whatever he may be, Ella, he is at least sincere and single-minded in his aims."
"I have no doubt of it, my only joy. But however sincere a man may be in his aims, he still cannot reasonably object to the distinction that is thrust upon him when he has done something out of the common. The men who make books know that that sort of thing pays. Someone told me the other day—I believe it was Herbert Courtland—that it is the men who write books embodying a great and noble aim who make the closest bargains with their publishers. I heard of a great and good clergyman the other day who wrote a Life of Christ, and then complained in the papers of his publishers having only given him a miserable percentage on the profits. That is how they talk nowadays; the profit resulting from the Life of Christ is to be measured in pounds, shillings, and pence."
"Mr. Holland is not a man of this stamp, Ella."
"I'm sure he is not. At the same time if he isn't prosecuted for heterodoxy no one will be more disappointed than Mr. Holland, unless, indeed, it be Mr. Holland's publisher. Who would begrudge the martyr his halo, dear? Even the most sincere and single-minded martyr has an eye on that halo. The halo of the up-to-date martyr is made up of afternoon teas provided by fair women, and full-page portraits in the illustrated papers."
"And all this leads to—what?"
"It leads to—let me see—oh, yes, it leads to your appearance at my little gathering. Of course, you'll come. Believe me, you'll not feel the least uncomfortable. You will be The Girl who Sacrificed her Love for Conscience' Sake. That's a good enough qualification for distinction on the part of any girl in these hard times. But I might have known long ago that you would play this part. That sweetly pathetic voice, with that firm mouth and those lovely soft gray eyes that would seem to a casual observer to neutralize the firmness of the mouth. Oh, yes, my Phyllis, you have undoubtedly la physionomie du role."
"The role of the girl who is on the side of the Bible."
"I am certainly on the side of the Bible."
"And so am I. So I will look for you to be by my side on Tuesday week, and as often as you please in the meantime. By the way, you will probably meet Herbert Courtland at our house. He is the New Guinea man, you know."
"Of course I know. You talk of wanting heroes in orthodoxy at your house, while you have Mr. Courtland, the New Guinea explorer, drinking his tea at your elbow? Oh, go away!"
"I hope you will like him. We saw a good deal of him in Italy, and will probably see a good deal of him here."
"I'm certain to like him: you like him."
"Ah, that's what you said to the young women who put off their colors and took to sackcloth in the presence of Mr. Holland. Don't be too sure that you will like any man because other women like him. Now, I have, as usual, remained too long with you. I'm greatly impressed with the situation of the moment. I don't say that I think you are wrong, mind you. Girls should always be on the side of the Bible. At any rate you have, I repeat, la physionomie du role, and you can't be far astray if you act up to it. Good-bye, my dearest."
THE DEFENSE OF HOLLAND.
Ella Linton drove to a certain shop not far from Piccadilly,—the only shop where the arranging of feathers is treated as a science independent of the freaks of fashion,—and at the door she met a tall man with the complexion of mahogany but with fair hair and mustache. People nudged one another and whispered his name as they walked past him before standing at the shop window, pretending to admire the feathers, but in reality to glance furtively round at the man.
The name that they whispered to one another after the nudge was Herbert Courtland.
He took off his hat—it was a tall silk one, but no one who knew anything could avoid feeling that it should have been a solar toupee—when Mrs. Linton stepped from her victoria.
"Oh, you here!" said she. "Who on earth would expect to see you here?"
"You," said he.
"You asked me a question. I answered it."
She laughed as they walked together to the door of the feather shop.
"It appears to me that you have a very good opinion of yourself and a very bad one of me," she remarked, smiling up to his face.
"That's just where you make a mistake," said he.
"If I did not think well of you I should not have ordered Parkinson to make you a fan of the tail of the meteor."
"Oh, Bertie, you have done that?"
"Why should I not do it?"
"But it is the only one in the world."
"Ah, that's just it. You are the only one in the world."
She laughed again, looking up to his face.
"Well, we'll have a look at it, anyway," said she.
They went into the shop to see the tail feathers of that wonderful meteor-bird which Herbert Courtland had just brought back from New Guinea with him—the most glorious thing that nature had produced and a great explorer had risked his life to acquire, in order that Mrs. Linton might have a unique feathered fan.
About the same time the Rev. George Holland met in the same thoroughfare his friend and patron, the Earl of Earlscourt.
"By the Lord Harry, you've done for yourself now, my hearty!" cried the earl. "What the blazes do you mean by attacking the Word of God in that fashion?"
"Tommy," said the Rev. George Holland, smiling a patronizing smile at his patron, "Tommy, my friend, if you take my advice you'll not meddle with what doesn't concern you. You're a peer; better leave the Word of God to me. I'm not a peer, but a parson."
"I'll not leave it with you; it isn't safe," said the peer. "Anything more damnably atheistical than that book of yours I never read."
"And you didn't read it, Thomas; you know you only read a screeching review of it, and you didn't even read that through," said the parson.
"Who told you that?" asked the patron. "Well, at any rate I read what you said about Ruth. It was quite scandalous! Ruth! Good Lord! what character is safe nowadays? One of the loveliest of the women of the Bible—my wife says so. She knows all about them. And the best painters in the world have shown her standing among the field of oats. By the Lord, sir, it's sheer blasphemy! and worse than that, it's making people—good, religious people, mind, not the ruck—it's making them ask why the blazes I gave you the living. It's a fact."
"I'm sorry for you, Tommy—very sorry. I'm also sorry for your good religious people, and particularly sorry for the phraseology of their earnest inquiries on what I am sure is a matter of life and death to them—spiritually. That's my last word, Thomas."
"And you were doing so well at the Joss-house, too." Lord Earlscourt was shaking his head sorrowfully, as he spoke. "We were all getting on so comfortably. That was what people said to me—they said——"
"Pardon me, I'm a parson, therefore I'm not particular; but I can't stand the way your good religious people express themselves."
"They said, 'It's so d—— pleasant to get hold of a parson who can be trusted in the pulpit—sermons with a good healthy moral tone, and so forth. You might bring your youngest daughter to St. Chad's in the certainty that she would hear nothing that would make her ask uncomfortable questions when she got home.' It's a fact, they said that; and now you go and spoil all. The bishop will have a word to say to you some of these days, my lad. He ran away to the Continent, they tell me, when your book was published, and it's perfectly well known that he never runs away unless things look serious. When the bishop is serious, those that can't swim had best take to the boats."
"I'll ask you for a seat in your yacht, Tommy. Meantime kindest regards to her ladyship."
"Oh! by the way, it's not true, is it, that the girl has thrown you over on account of the book?"
For an instant there came a little flush to the face of the Rev. George Holland; then he shifted his umbrella from one hand to the other, saying:
"If you mean Phyllis, all I can say in reply is that she is the best and the truest girl alive at present. I've an engagement at a quarter-past six."
"Well, good-by. It was my missus who said that the girl would throw you over on account of that book."
"Honestly speaking, George, old man, I think you've made a mistake this time. People don't mind much about Jacob and Jonah and Jeremiah and the whole job lot of Sheenies; but they do mind about Ruth. Hang it all man! she was a woman."
"Ah! so was Jezebel, and yet—ah! good-by. I'll be late for my appointment."
"See you on Sunday," said the earl, with a broadish smile.
And so he did.
So did the largest congregation that had ever assembled within the venerable walls of St. Chad's. They heard him also, and so did the dozen reporters of the morning papers who were present—some to describe, with the subtle facetiousness of the newspaper reporter, the amusing occurrences incidental to the church service of the day, and others to take down his sermon to the extent of half a column to be headed "The Rev. George Holland Defends Himself." One reporter, however, earned an increase in his salary by making his headline, "The Defense of Holland." It was supposed that casual readers would fancy that the kingdom of Holland had been repelling an invader, and would not find out their mistake until they had read half through the sermon.
George Holland had not been mistaken when he had assumed that his appearance in the church and his sermon this day would attract a large amount of attention. As a matter of fact the building was crowded with notable persons: Cabinet ministers (2), judges of the superior courts (4), company promoters (47), actors and actresses (3), music hall and variety artists (22), Royal Academician (1). Literature was represented by a lady who had written a high-church novel, and fashion by the publisher who had produced it. Science appeared in the person of a professional thought-reader (female). These were all strangers to St. Chad's, though some of them could follow the service quite easily. The habitues of the church included several peers, the members of a foreign embassy, a few outside brokers, quite a number of retired officers of both services, and some Members of Parliament and the London County Council.
One of the chaplains of the bishop occupied a seat in the aisle; according to the facetious newspaper he held a watching brief.
The rector was, of course, oblivious of his brilliant entourage. He could not even tell if Phyllis or her father were present. (As a matter of fact both were in their accustomed seats in their own pew.) He, as usual, took but a small part in the ritual—as Lord Earlscourt once remarked, George Holland wasn't such a fool as to keep a dog and do the barking himself. (It has already been stated that he had a couple of excellent curates.) But the sermon was preached by himself, as indeed it usually was after the morning service.
It was the most brilliant of all his efforts. He took as his text the words, "All Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable," and he had no difficulty in showing how vast was the profit to be derived from a consideration of every portion of the sacred volume, it appeared to him, than the account given of the early history of the Hebrew race. That account appealed as an object lesson to all nations on the face of the earth. It allowed every people to see the course which the children of Israel had pursued at various periods of their existence and to profit by such observation. The Hebrews were a terrible example to all the world. If they were slaves when in the land of Egypt, that was their own fault. Milton had magnificently expressed the origin of slavery:
"He that hath light within his own clear breast May walk i' the noontide and enjoy bright day, But he that hides dark deeds and foul thoughts. . . . Himself is his own dungeon."
The bondage of Egypt was, he believed, self-imposed. There is no account available, he said, of the enslavement of the Children of Israel by the Egyptians, but a careful consideration of the history of various peoples shows beyond the possibility of a mistake being made, that only those become enslaved who are best fitted for enslavement. A king arose that knew not Joseph—a king who could not believe that at any time there was belonging to that race of strangers a man of supreme intelligence. The Israelites bowed their heads to the yoke of the superior race, the Egyptians, and took their rightful place as slaves. After many days a man of extraordinary intelligence appeared in the person of Moses. A patriot of patriots, he gave the race their God—they seemed to have lived in a perfectly Godless condition in Egypt; and their theology had to be constructed for them by their leader, as well as their laws: the laws for the desert wanderers, and a decalogue for all humanity. He was equal to any emergency, and he had no scruples. He almost succeeded in making a great nation out of a horde of superstitious robbers. Had he succeeded the record would have thrown civilization back a thousand years. Happy it was for the world that the triumph of crime was brief. The cement of bloodshed that kept the kingdom of Israel together for a time soon dissolved. Captivity followed captivity. For a thousand years no improvement whatever took place in the condition of the people—they had no arts; they lived in mud huts at a period when architecture reached a higher level than it had ever attained to previously. When the patriot prophets arose, endeavoring to reform them with words of fire—the sacred fire of truth—they killed them. One chance remained to them. They were offered a religion that would have purified them, in place of the superstition that had demoralized them, and they cried with one voice, as everyone who had known their history and their social characteristics knew they would cry, "Not this Man, but Barabbas." That was from the earliest period in the history of the race the watchword of the Hebrews. Not the man, but the robber. All that is good and noble and true in manhood—the mercy, the compassion, the self-sacrifice that are comprised in true manhood—they cast beneath their feet, they spat upon, they crucified; but all of the Barabbas in man they embraced. Thus are they become a hissing in the earth, and properly so; for those who hiss at the spirit which has always animated Judaism show that they abhor a thing that is abhorrent. "All Scripture is profitable," continued the preacher, "and practically all that is referred to in the text is an indictment of Judaism. The more earnestly we hold to this truth the greater will be the profit accruing to us from a consideration of the Scripture. But what more terrible indictment of the Hebrew systems could we have than that which is afforded us in the record that the father of the race had twelve sons? He had. But where are ten of them now? Swept out of existence without leaving a single record of their destruction even to their two surviving brethren." He concluded his sermon by stating that he hoped it would be clearly understood that he recognized the fact that in England those members of the Hebrew community who had adopted the methods, the principles, the truths of Christianity even though they still maintained their ancient form of worship in their synagogues, were on a line with civilization. They searched their scriptures and these scriptures had been profitable to them, inasmuch as they had been taught by those scriptures how impossible it was for that form of superstition known as Judaism to be the guide for any people on the face of the earth.