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

The stars were paling, but the day had not yet dawned, when there came a knock at the door.  John started and listened.  After an interval the knock was repeated.  It was a timid, hesitating tap, as if made with the tips of the fingers low down on the door.

“Praise be to God!” said John, and he drew the slide of the grating.  He had expected to see a face outside, but there was nothing there.

“Who is it?” he asked, and there came no answer.

He took up the lamp that was kept burning in the hall and looked out through the bars.  There was nothing in the darkness but an icy mist, which appeared to be rising from the ground.

“Only another of my dreams,” he thought, and he laid his hand on the slide to close it.

Then he heard a sigh that seemed to rise out of the ground, and at the same moment the dog uttered a deep bay.  He laid hold of the door and pulled it quickly open.  At his feet the figure of a man was kneeling, bent double and huddled up.

“Paul!” he cried in an excited whisper.

Brother Paul raised his head.  His face was frightfully changed.  It was gray and wasted.  His eyes wandered, his lips trembled, and he looked like a man who had been flogged.

“Good Lord, what a wreck!” thought John.  He helped him to rise and enter.  The poor creature’s limbs were stiff with cold, and he stumbled from weakness as he crossed the threshold.

“But, thank God, you are back and no harm done!” said John.  “How anxious we’ve been!  You must never go out againnever!  There, brother, sit there.”

The wandering eyes looked up with a supplicating expression.  “Forgive me.  Brother Storm ”

But John would not listen.  “Hush, brother! what have I to forgive?  How cold you are!  Your hands are like ice.  What can I do?  There’s no fire in the house at this time of nighteven in the kitchen it will be out now.  But wait, I can rub you with my hands.  See, I’m warm and strong.  There’s a deal of blood in me yet.  That’s better, isn’t it?  Tingling, eh?  That’s rightthat’s good!  Now for your feetyour feet will be colder still.”

“No, brother, no.  I ought to be kissing the feet of everybody in the house and asking the prayers of the community, and yet you ”

“Tut! what nonsense!  Let me take off this shoe.  Dear me, how it sticks!  Why, you’ve worn it through and through.  Look!  What a mercy the snow was hard!  If there had been thaw, now!  How far you must have walked!”

“Yes, I’ve wandered a long way, brother.”

“You shall tell me all about it.  I want to hear everythingevery single thing.”

“There’s nothing to tell.  I’ve failed in my errandthat’s all.”

John, who was on his knees, drew back and looked up.  “Do you mean, then –­Have you not seen your sister?”

“No, she’s gone, and nobody knows anything about her.”

“Well, perhaps it’s for the best, brother.  God’s will be done, you know.  If you had found herwho knows?you might have been temptedBut tell me everything.”

“I can not do that, I’m so weak, and it’s not worth while.”

“But I want to hear all that happened.  See, your feet are all right nowI’ve rubbed them warm again.  Though I fast so much and look so thin I’ve a deal of life in me.  And I’ve been pouring it all into you, haven’t I?  That’s because I want you to revive and be strong and tell me everything.  Hush!  Speak low; don’t waken anybody!  Did you find the hospital?”


“Then Nurse Quayle sees nothing of your sister now?  That’s the pity of the life she is leading, poor girl!  No friends, no future ”

“It wasn’ that, brother.”

“What then?”

“The nurse was not there.”

A silence followed, and then John said in another voice:  “I suppose she was on a holiday.  It was very stupid of me; I didn’t think of that.  Twice a year a hospital nurse is entitled to a week’s holiday, and no doubt ”

“But she was gone.”

“Gone?  You mean left the hospital?”


“Well,” in a husky voice, “that isn’t to be wondered at either.  A high-spirited girl finds it hard to be bound down to rule and regulation.  But the porterhe is an intelligent manhe would tell you where she had gone to.”

“I asked him; he didn’t know.  All he could say was that she left the hospital on the morning of Lord Mayor’s Show-day.”

“That would be the 9th of Novemberthe day we took our vows.”

There was another pause; the big dark eyes were wandering vacantly.

“After all, he is only a porter; you asked for the matron, didn’t you?”

“Yes; I thought she might know what had become of my sister.  But she didn’t.  As for Nurse Quayle, she had been dismissed also, and nobody knew anything about her.”

John had seated himself at Paul’s side and the form itself was quivering.

“Now that’s just like her,” he said hoarsely.  “That matron was always a hard woman.  And to think that in that great house of love and pity nobody ”

“I’m forgetting something, brother.”

“What is it?”

“The porter told me that the nurse called for her letters from time to time.  She had been there that nightnot half an hour before.”

“Then you followed her, didn’t you?  You asked which, way she had gone, and you hurried after her?”

“Yes; but half an hour in London is a week anywhere else.  Let anybody cross the street and she is lostmore lost to sight than a ship in a storm on the ocean.  And then it was New Year’s Eve, and the thoroughfares were crowded, and thousands of women were coming and goingandwhat could I do?” he said helplessly.

John answered scornfully:  “What could you do?  Do you ask me what you could do?”

“What would you have done?”

“I should have tramped every street in London and looked into the face of every woman I met until I had found her.  I should have worn my shoes to the welt and my skin to the bone before I should have come crawling home like a snail with my shell broken over my head!

“Don’t be hard on me, brother, least of all now, when I have come home like a snail, as you say, with my shell broken.  I was very tired and ill and did all I could.  If I had been strong like you and brave-hearted I might have struggled longer.  Bid I did tramp the streets and look into the women’s faces.  She must have been among them, if she’s living the life you speak of; but God would not let me find her.  Why was it that my search was fruitless?  Perhaps there was evil in my heart at firstI don’t mind telling you that nowbut I swear to you by Him who died for us that at last I only wanted to find my sister that I might save her.  But I am such a helpless creature, and ”

John put his arm about Paul’s shoulders.

“Forgive me, brother.  I was mad to talk to you like thatI who sent you out on that cruel night and staid at home myself.  You did what you could ”

“You think thatreally?”

“Yes, only at the moment it seemed as if we had changed places somehow, and it was I who had lost a sister and been out to find her, and given up the search too soon, and come home empty and useless and broken-spirited, and ”

Paul was looking up at him with a face full of astonishment.

“Do you really think I did all I could to find herthe nurse, I mean?”

But John had turned his own face away, and there was no answer.  Paul tried to say something, but he could not find the words.  At last in a choked voice he murmured:  “We must keep close together, brother; we are in the same boat now.”

And feeling for John’s hand, he took it and held it, and they sat for some minutes with bowed heads, as if a ghost were going by.

“There’s nothing but prayer and penance and fasting left to us, is there?”

Still John made no reply, and the broken creature began to comfort him.

“We have peace here at all events, and you wouldn’t, think what temptations come to you in the world when you’ve lost somebody, and there seems to be nothing left to live for.  Shall I tell you what I did?  It was in the early morning and I was standing in a doorway in Piccadilly.  The cabs and the crowds were gone, and only the nightmen were there swilling up the dirt of the pavements with their hose-pipes and water.  ’My poor girl is lost,’ I thought, ’We shall never see one another again.  This wicked city has ruined her, and our mother, who was so holy, was fond of her when she was a little child.’  And then my heart seemed to freeze up within me... and I did it.  You’ll think I was madI went to the police station and told them I had committed a crime.  Yes, indeed, I accused myself of murder, and began to give particulars.  It was only when they noticed my habit that I remembered the Father, and then I refused to answer any more questions.  They put me in a cell, and that was where I spent the night, and next morning I denied everything, and they let me go.”

Then, dropping his voice to a hoarse whisper, he said:  “That wasn’t what brought me back, though.  It was the vow.  You can’t think what a thing the vow is until you’ve broken it.  It’s like a hot iron searing your very soul, and if you were dying and at the farthest ends of the earth, and you had to crawl on your hands and knees, you would come back ”

He would have said more, but an attack of coughing silenced him, and when it was over there was a sound of some one moving in the house.

“What is that?”

“It is the Father,” said John.  “Our voices have wakened him.”

Paul struggled to his feet.

“It’s only a life of penance and suffering you’ve come back to, my poor lad.”

“That’s nothingnothing at allBut are you sure you think I did everything?”

“You did what you could.  Are you going somewhere?”

“Yes, to the Father.”

“God bless you, my lad!”

“And God bless you too, brother!”

Half an hour later, by the order of the Superior, John Storm, with the help of Brother Andrew and the Father Minister, carried Brother Paul to his cell.  The bell had been rung for Lauds, and going up the stairs they passed the brothers coming down to service.  News of Paul’s return had gone through the house like a cutting wind, and certain of the brothers who had gathered in groups on the landings were whispering together, as if the coming back had been a shameful thing which cast discredit on all of them.  It wasn’t love of rule that had brought the man home again, but broken health and the want of a bed to die upon!  Thus they talked under their breath, unconscious of the secret operation of their own hearts.  In a monastery, as elsewhere, failure is the worst disgrace.

John Storm returned to the hall with a firm step and eyes full of resolution.  Hardly answering the brothers, who plied him with questions, he pushed through them with long strides, and, taking the key of the outer gate from the place in the alcove where he had left it, he turned toward the Father’s room.

The day had dawned, and through the darkness which was lifting in the little room he could see the Father rising from his knees.

“Father!” he cried in an excited voice, and his words, like his breath, came in gusts.

“What is it, my son?”

“Take this key back again.  The world is calling me, and I can not trust myself at the door any longer.  Put me under the rule of silence and solitude, and shut me up in a cell, or I shall break my obedience and run away as sure as heaven is over us!”