Read THE OUTER WORLD - CHAPTER IX. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on ReadCentral.com.

John Storm had been through his first morning call that afternoon.  For this ordeal he had presented himself in a flannel shirt in the hall, where the canon was waiting for him in patent-leather boots and kid gloves, and his daughter Felicity in cream silk and white feathers.  After they had seated themselves in the carriage the canon, said:  “You don’t quite do yourself justice, Mr. Storm.  Believe me, to be well dressed is a great thing to a young man making his way in London.”

The carriage stopped at a house that seemed to be only round the corner.

“This is Mrs. Macrae’s,” the canon whispered.  “An American lady-widow of a millionaire.  Her daughteryou will see her presentlyis to marry into one of our best English families.”

They were walking up the wide staircase behind the footman in blue.  There was a buzz of voices coming from a room above.

“CanonerWealthy, Miss Wealthy, andertheh’mRev. Mr. Storm!”

The buzz of voices abated, and a bright-faced little woman, showily dressed, came forward and welcomed them with a marked accent.  There were several other ladies in the room, but only one gentleman.  This person, who was standing, with teacup and saucer in hand, at the farther side, screwed an eyeglass in his eye, looked across at John Storm, and then said something to the lady in the chair beside him.  The lady tittered a little.  John Storm looked back at the man, as if by an instinctive certainty that he must know him when he saw him again.  He was engulfed in a high, stiff collar, and was rather ugly; tall, slender, a little past thirty; fair, with soft, sleepy eyes, and no life in his expression, but agreeable; fit for good society, with the stamp of good breeding, and capable of saying little humorous things in a thin “roofy” voice.

“I was real sorry I didn’t hear Mr. Storm Wednesday evening,” Mrs. Macrae was saying, with a mincing smile.  “My daughter told me it was just too lovely.Mercy, this is your great preacher.  Persuade him to come to my ‘At Home’ Tuesday.”

A tall, dark girl, with gentle manners and a beautiful face, came slowly forward, put her hand into John’s, and looked steadily into his eyes without speaking.  Then the gentleman with the eyeglass said suavely, “Have you been long in London, Mr. Storm?”

“Two weeks,” John answered shortly, and half turned his head.

“Howerinteresting!” with a prolonged drawl and a little cold titter.

“Oh, Lord Robert UreMr. Storm,” said the hostess.

“Mr. Storm has done me the honour to become one of my assistant clergy, Lord Robert,” said the canon, “but he is not likely to be a curate long.”

“That is charming,” said Lord Robert.  “It is always a relief to hear that I am likely to have one candidate the less for my poor perpetual curacy in Pimlico.  They’re at me like flies round a honey-pot, don’t you know.  I thought I had made the acquaintance of all the perpetual curates in Christendom.  And what a sweet team they are, to be sure!  The last of them came yesterday.  I was out, and my friend DrakeDrake of the Home Office, you knowcouldn’t give the man the living, so he gave him sixpence instead, and the creature went away quite satisfied.”

Everybody seemed to laugh except John, who only stared into the air, and the loudest laughter came from the canon.  But suddenly an incisive voice said: 

“But why sharpen your teeth on the poor curates?  Is there no a canon or a bishop handy that’s better worth a bite?”

It was Mrs. Callender.

“I tell ye a story too, only mine shall be a true one.”

“Jane!  Jane!” said the hostess, shaking her fan as a weapon; and Lord Robert stretched his neck over his collar and made an amiable smile.

“A girl of eighteen came to me this morning at Soho, and she was in the usual trouble.  The father was a wicked rector.  He died last year leaving thirty-one thousand pounds; and the mother of his unfortunate childthat is to say, his mistressis now in the Union.”

It was the first sincere word that had been spoken, where every tone had been wrong, every gesture false, and it fell on the company like a thunderclap.  John Storm drew his breath hard, looked up at Lord Robert by a strange impulse, and felt himself avenged.

“What a beautiful day it has been!” said somebody.  Everybody looked up at the maker of this surprising remark.  It was a lady, and she blushed until her cheeks burned again.

A painful silence followed, and then the hostess turned to Lord Robert and said: 

“You spoke of your friend Drake, didn’t you?  Everybody is talking of him, and as for the girls, they seem to be crazy about the man.  So handsome, they say; so natural, and such a splendid talker.  But then, girls are so quick to take fancies to people.  You really must take care of yourself, my dear.” (This to Felicity.) “Who is he?  Lord Robert will tell youan official of some kind, and son of Sir something Drake, of one of the northern counties.  He knows the secret of getting on in the world, though he doesn’t go about too much.  But I’ve determined not to live any longer without making the acquaintance of this wonderful being, so Lord Robert must just bring him along Tuesday evening, or else ”

John Storm escaped at last, without promising to come to the “At Home.”  He went direct to the hospital and learned that Glory was out for the day.  Where she could have gone, and what she could be doing, puzzled him grievously.  That she had not put herself under his counsel and direction on her first excursion abroad hurt his pride and wounded his sense of responsibility.  As the night fell his anxiety increased.  Though he knew she would not return until ten, he set out at nine to meet her.

At a venture he took the eastward course, and passed slowly down Piccadilly.  The façade of nearly every club facing the park was flaming with electric light.  Young men in evening dress were standing on the steps, smoking and taking the air after dinner, and pretty girls in showy costumes were promenading leisurely in front of them.  Sometimes, as a girl passed, she looked sharply up and the corner of her mouth would be raised a little, and when she had gone by there would be a general burst of laughter.

John’s blood boiled, and then his heart sank; he felt so helpless, his pity and indignation were so useless and unnecessary.  All at once he saw what he had been looking for.  As he went by the corner of St. James’s Street he almost ran against Glory and another nurse in the costume of their hospital.  They did not observe him; they were talking to a man; it was the man he had met in the afternoonLord Robert Ure.

John heard the man say, “Your Glory is such a glorious ” and then he lowered his voice, and appeared to say something that was very amusing, for the other girl laughed a great deal.

John’s soul was now fairly in revolt, and he wanted to stop, to order the man off and to take charge of the two nurses as his duty seemed to require of him.  But he passed them, then looked back and saw the group separate, and as the man went by he watched the girls going westward.  There was a glimpse of them under the gas-lamp as they crossed the street, and again a glimpse as they passed into the darkness under the trees of the park.

He could not trust himself to return to the hospital that night, and his indignation was no less in the morning.  But there was a letter from Glory saying that his poor old friend was dead, and had begged that he would bury her.  He dressed himself in his best ("We can’t take liberties with the poor,” he thought) and walked across to the hospital at once.  There he asked for Glory, and they went downstairs together to that still chamber underground which has always its cold and silent occupant.  It is only a short tenancy that anybody can have there, so the old woman had to be buried the same morning.  The parish was to bury her, and the van was at the door.

He was standing with Glory in the hall, and his heart had softened to her.

“Glory,” he said, “you shouldn’t have gone out yesterday without telling me, the dangers of London are so great.”

“What dangers?” she asked.

“Well, to a young girl, a beautiful girl ”

Glory peered up under her long eyelashes.

“I mean the dangers fromI’m ashamed in my soul to say itthe dangers from men.”

She shot up a quick glance into his face and said in a moment, “You saw us, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I saw you, and I didn’t like your choice of company.”

She dropped her head demurely and said, “The man?”

John hesitated.  “I was speaking of the girl.  I don’t like the freedom with which she carries herself in this house.  Among these good and devoted women is there no one but thisthis ?”

Glory’s lower lip began to show its inner side.  “She’s bright and lively, that’s all I care.”

“But it’s not all I care, Glory, and if such men as that are her friends outside ”

Glory’s head went up.  “What is it to me who are her friends outside?”

“Everything, if you allow yourself to meet them again.”

“Well,” doggedly, “I am going to meet them again.  I’m going to the Nurses’ Ball on Tuesday.”

John answered with deliberation, “Not in that girl’s company.”

“Why not?”

“I say not in that girl’s company.”

There was a short pause, and then Glory said with a quivering mouth:  “You are vexing me, and you will end by making me cry.  Don’t you see you are degrading me too?  I am not used to being degraded.  You see me with a weak silly creature who hasn’t an idea in her head and can do nothing but giggle and laugh and make eyes at men, and you think I’m going to be led away by her.  Do you suppose a girl can’t take care of herself?”

“As you will, then,” said John, with a fling of his hand, going off down the steps.

“Mr. StormMr. StormJoJoh ”

But he was out on the pavement and getting into the workhouse van.

“Ah!” said a mincing voice beside her.  “How jolly it is when anybody is suffering for your sake!” It was Polly Love, and again her eyelids were half covering her eyes.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” said Glory.  Her own eyes were swimming in big tear-drops.

“Don’t you?  What a funny girl you are!  But your education has been neglected, my dear.”

It was a combination van and hearse with the coffin under the driver’s box, and John Storm (as the only discoverable mourner) with the undertaker on the seat inside.

“Will ye be willin’ ter tyke the service at the cimitery, sir?” said the undertaker, and John answered that he would.

The grave was on the paupers’ side, and when the undertaker, with his man, had lowered the coffin to its place, he said, “They’ve gimme abart three more funerals this morning, so I’ll leave ye now, sir, to finish ’er off.”

At the next moment John Storm in his surplice was alone with the dead, and had opened his book to read the burial service which no other human ear was to hear.

He read “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes,” and then the bitter loneliness of the pauper’s doom came down on his soul and silenced him.

But his imprisoned passion had to find a vent, and that night he wrote to the Prime Minister:  “I begin to understand what you meant when you said I was in the wrong place.  Oh, this London, with its society, its worldly clergy, its art, its literature, its luxury, its idle life, all built on the toil of the country and compounded of the sweat of the nameless poor!  Oh, this ‘Circe of cities,’ drawing good people to it, decoying them, seducing them, and then turning them into swine!  It seems impossible to live in the world and to be spiritually-minded.  When I try to do so I am torn in two.”