Read THE RELIGIOUS LIFE - CHAPTER II. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on ReadCentral.com.

Though it was against the rule of the Order to indulge in particular friendships, yet in obedience to the rule of Nature he made friends among the brothers.  His feeling for the Superior became stronger than love and approached to adoration, and there were certain of the Fathers to whom his heart went out with a tender sympathy.  The Father Minister was a man of a hard, closed soul, very cantankerous and severe; but the rest were gentle and timid men for the most part, with a wistful outlook on the world.

It was due in part to the proximity of his cell to the quarters assigned to the lay brothers that his two closest friendships were made among them.  One was with a great creature, like an overgrown boy, who kept the door to the monastery by day, and alternated that duty with another by night.  He was called Brother Andrewfor the lay brothers were known by their Christian namesand he was one of those characterless beings who are only happy when they have merged their individuality in another’s and joined their fate to his.  He attached himself to John from the first, and as often as he was at liberty he was hanging about him, ready to fetch and carry in his shambling gait, which was like the roll of an old dog.  The expression of his beardless face was that of a boy, and he had no conversation, for he always agreed with everything that was said to him.

The other of John’s friendships was with the lay brother whom he had known outsidethe brother of Polly Lovebut this was a friendship of slower growth, impeded by a tragic obstacle.  John had seen him first in the refectory on the night of his arrival, and observed in his face the marks of suffering and exhaustion.  At various times afterward he had seen him in the church and encountered him in the corridors, and had sometimes bowed to him and smiled, but the brother had never once given sign of recognition.  At length he had begun to doubt his identity, and one morning, going upstairs from breakfast side by side with the Superior, he said: 

“Father, is the lay brother with the melancholy eyes and the pale face the one whom I knew at the hospital?”

“Yes,” said the Father; “but he is under the rule of silence.”

“Ah!  Does he know what has become of his sister?”

“No.”

It was the morning hour of recreation, and the Father drew John into the courtyard and talked of Brother Paul.

He was much tormented by thoughts of the world without, and being a young man of a weak nervous system and a consumptive tendency, such struggles with the evil one were hurtful to him.  Therefore, though it was the rule that a lay brother should not be consecrated until after long years of service, it had been decided that he should take the vows immediately, in order that Satan might yield up his hold of him and the world might drag at him no more.

“Is that your experience?” said John; “when a religious has taken the vows, are his thoughts of the world all conquered?”

“He is like the sailor making ready for his voyage.  As long as he lies in harbour his thoughts are of the home he has left behind him; but when he has once crossed the bar and is out on the ocean he thinks only of the haven where he would be.”

“But are there no backward glances, Father?  The sailor may write to the friends he has parted fromsurely the religious may pray for them.”

“As brothers and sisters of the spirit, yes, always and at all times; as brothers and sisters of the flesh, no, never, save in hours of especial need.  He is the spouse of Christ, my son, and all Christ’s children are his kindred equally.”

As a last word the Father begged of John to abstain from reference to anything that had happened at the hospital, lest Brother Paul might hear of it and manifold evils be the result.

The warning seemed needless.  From that day forward John tried to avoid Brother Paul.  In church and in the refectory he kept his eyes away from him.  He could not see that worn face, with its hungry look, and not think of a captured eagle with a broken wing.  It was with a shock that he discovered that their cells were side by side.  If they came near to each other in the corridors he experienced a kind of terror, and was thankful for the rule of silence which forbade them to speak.  Under the smouldering ashes there might be coals of fire which only wanted a puff to fan them into flame.

They came face to face at last.  It was on the lead flat of the tower above their cells.  John had grown accustomed to go there after Compline, that he might look on London from that eminence and thank God that he had escaped from its clutches.  The stars were out, and the city lay like a great monster around and beneath.  Something demoniacal had entered into his view of it.  Down there was the river, winding like a serpent through its sand, and here and there were the bridges, like the scales across it, and farther west was the head of the great creature, just beginning to be ablaze with lights.

“She is there,” he thought, and then he was startled by a sound.  Had he uttered the words aloud?  But it was some one else who had spoken.  Brother Paul was standing by the parapet with his eyes in the same direction.  When he became conscious that John was behind him he stammered something in his confusion, and than hurried away as if he had been detected in a crime.

“God pity him!” thought John.  “If he only knew what has happened!”

Going back to his cell, he began to think of Glory.  By the broken links of memory he remembered for the first time, since coming into the monastery, the condition of insecurity in which he had left her.  How uncertain her position at the hospital, how perilous her relations with her friend!

The last prayer of the day for the brothers of the Gethsemane was the prayer before the crucifix by the side of the bed:  “Thanks be to God for giving me the trials of this day!” To this he added another petition:  “And bless and protect her wheresoever she may be!”

He ceased to frequent the tower after that, and did not go up to it again until the morning of the day on which he was to make his vows.  By this time his soul had spent itself so prodigally in prayer that he had almost begun to regard himself as one already in another world.  The morning was clear and frosty, and he could see that something unusual was taking place on the earth below.  Traffic was stopped, the open spaces were crowded, and processions were passing through the streets with bands of music playing and banners flying.  Then he remembered what day it wasit was Lord Mayor’s Day, the 9th of Novemberand once again he thought of Glory.  She would be there, for her heart was light and she loved the world and all its scenes of gaiety and splendour.

It was the day of his final preparation, and he was under the rule of silence, so he returned to his cell and shut the door.  But he could not shut out the sounds of the streets.  All day long the bands were playing and the horses prancing, and there was the tramp of many feet.  And even in the last hour before the ceremony, when he was on his knees in front of the crucifix and the palms of his hands were pressed against his face, he could see the gay spectacle and the surging throngsthe men, the women, the children in every window, on every parapet, and Glory in the midst of them with her laughing lips and her sparkling eyes.

Night brought peace with it at length, and then the bell rang and he went down to service.  The brothers were waiting for him in the hall, and they formed into line and passed into the church:  first, Brother Andrew with the cross, then Brother Paul with the incense, and the other lay brothers with the candles, then the religious in their cassocks, and the Superior in his cope, and John Storm last of all.

The altar was decorated as for a feast, and the service was strange but solemn.  John had drawn up in writing a promise of stability and obedience, and this he placed with his own hand on the altar.  Down to that moment he had worn his costume as a secular priest, but now he was to be robed in the habit of the Order.

The Father stood on the altar steps with the habit lying at his feet.  He took it up and blessed it and then put it on John, saying as he bound it with the cord, “Take this cord and wear it in memory of the purity of heart wherewith you must ever hereafter seek to abide in the love and service of our Lord Jesus.”

At that moment a door was suddenly and loudly slammed, to signify that the world was being shut out; the choir said the Gloria Patri, and then sang a hymn beginning: 

  Farewell, thou world of sorrow,
    Unrest, and schism and strife! 
  I leave thee on the threshold
    Of the celestial life.

It was the occasion of Brother Paul’s life vows also, and as John stood back from the altar steps the lay brother was brought up to them.  He was very pale and nervous, and he would have stumbled but for the help of the Father Minister and Brother Andrew, who walked on either side of him.

Then the same ceremony was gone through again, but with yet more solemn accessories.  The burial service was read, the De Profundis was sung, the bell was tolled, the Ecce quam bonum was intoned, and finally the chant was chanted: 

  Dead to Him, then death is over,
  Dead and gone are death’s dark fears.

John Storm was profoundly stirred.  The heavens seemed to open and all the earth to pass away.  It was difficult to believe that he was still in the flesh.

When he was able to collect himself he was on the tower again, but in his cassock now and gripping the cord by which it was tied.  The frosty air of the morning had thickened to a fog, the fog-signals were sounding, and the mighty monster below seemed to be puffing fire from a thousand nostrils and bellowing from a thousand throats.

Some one had come up to him.  It was Brother Paul.  He was talking nervously and even pretending to laugh a little.

“I am so happy to see you here.  And I am glad the silence is at an end and I am able to tell you so.”

“Thank you,” said John, and he tried to pass him.

“I always knew you would come to usthat is to say, after the night I heard you at the hospitalthe night of the Nurses’ Ball, you remember, and the Father’s visit, you know.  Still, I trust there was nothing wrongnothing at the hospital, I mean ”

John was fumbling for the door to the dormer.

“Everybody loved you toothe patients and the nurses and everybody!  How they will miss you there!  I trust you left everybody welland happy andeh?”

“Good-night,” said John from the head of the stair.

There was silence for a moment, and then the brother said, in another voice: 

“Yes, I understand you.  I know quite well what you mean.  It is a fault to speak of the outer world except on especial need.  We have taken the vows, too, and are pledged for lifeI am, at all events.  Still, if you could have told me anything But I am much to blame.  I must confess my fault and do my penance.”

John was diving down the stair and hurrying into his room.

“God help him!” he thought.  “And me too!  God help both of us!  How am I to live if I have to hide this secret?  Yet how is he to live if he learns it?”

He sat on the bed and tried to compose himself.  Yes, Brother Paul was an object for pity.  In all the moral universe there was no spectacle more pitiable than that of a man who had left the world while his heart was still in it.  What was he doing here?  What had brought him?  What business had such a one in such a place?  And then his pitiful helplessness for all the uses of life and duty!  Could it be right, could it be necessary, could it be God’s wish and will?

Here was a man whose sister was in the world.  She was young and vain, and the world was gay and seductive.  Without a hand to guide and guard her, what evils might not befall?  She was sunk already in shame and degradation, and he had put it out of his power to save her.  Whatever had happened in the past, whatever might happen in the future, he was lost to her forever.  The captured eagle with the broken wing was now chained to the wall as well.  But prayer!  Prayer was the bulwark of chastity, and God was in need of no man’s efforts.

John fell on his knees before the crucifix.  With the broken logic of reverie he was thinking of Glory, and Brother Paul, and Polly and Drake.  They crossed his brain and weighed upon it and went out and returned.  The night was cold, but the sweat stood on his brow in beads.  In the depths of his soul something was speaking to him, and he was trying not to listen.  He was like a blind man who had stumbled to the edge of a precipice, and could hear the waves breaking on the rocks beneath.

When he said his last prayer that night he omitted the petition for Glory (as duty seemed to require of him), and then found that all life and soul and strength had gone out of it.  In the middle of the night he awoke with a sense of fright.  Was it only a dream that he was dead and buried?  He raised his head in the darkness and stretched out his hand.  No, it was true.  Little by little he pieced together the incidents of the previous day.  Yes, it had really happened.

“After all, I am not like PaulI am not bound for life,” he told himself, and then he lay back like a child and was comforted.

He was ashamed, but he could not help it; he was feeling already as if he were a prisoner in a dungeon looking forward to his release.