Read THE DEVIL’S ACRE - CHAPTER X. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on ReadCentral.com.

Glory’s letter and its inclosure fell on John Storm like rain in the face of a man on horsebackhe only whipped up and went faster.

“How can I find words,” he wrote, “to express what I feel at your mournful news?  Yet why mournful?  His life’s mission was fulfilled, his death was a peaceful victory, and we ought to rejoice that he was so easily released.  I trust you will not mourn too heavily for him, or allow his death to stop your life.  It would not be right.  No trouble came near his stainless heart, no shadow of sin; his old age was a peaceful day which lasted until sunset.  He was a creature that had no falsetto in a single fibre of his being, no shadow of affectation.  He kept like this through all our complicated existence in this artificial world, absolutely unconscious of the hollowness and pretension and sham that surrounded himtolerant, too, and kind to all.  Then why mourn for him?  He is gathered inhe is safe.

“His letter was touching in its artful simplicity.  It was intended to ask me to apply for his living.  But my duty is here, and London must make the best of me.  Yet more than ever now I feel my responsibility with regard to yourself.  The time is not ripe to advise you.  I am on the eve of a great effort.  Many things have to be tried, many things attempted.  It is a gathering of mannaa little every day.  To God’s keeping and protection meantime I commit you.  Comfort your aunts, and let me know if there is anything that can be done for them.”

The ink of this letter was hardly dry when John Storm was in the middle of something else.  He was in a continual fever now.  Above all, his great scheme for the rescue and redemption of women and children possessed him.  He called it Glory’s scheme when he talked of it to himself.  It might be in the teeth of nineteenth-century morality, but what matter about that?  It was on the lines of Christ’s teaching when he forgave the woman and shamed the hypocrites.  He would borrow for it, beg for it, and there might be conditions under which he would steal for it too.

Mrs. Callender shook her head.

“I much misdoubt there’ll be scandal, laddie.  It’s a woman’s work, I’m thinking.”

“‘Be thou as chaste as ice,’ auntie, ’as pure as snow’... but no matter!  I intend to call out the full power of a united Church into the warfare against this high wickedness.  Talk of the union of Christendom!  If we are in earnest about it we’ll unite to protect and liberate our women.”

“But where’s the siller to come frae, laddie?”

“Anywhereeverywhere!  Besides, I have a bank I can always draw on, auntie.”

“You’re no meaning the Prime Minister again, surely?”

“I mean the King of Kings.  God will provide for me, in this, as in everything.”

Thus his reckless enthusiasm bore down everything, and at the back of all his thoughts was the thought of Glory.  He was preparing a way for her; she was coming back to a great career, a glorious mission; her bright soul would shine like a star; she would see that he had been right, and faithful, and thenthen But it was like wine coursing through his veinshe could not think of it.

Three thousand pounds had to be found to buy or build homes with, and he set out to beg for the money.  His first call was at Mrs. Macrae’s.  Going up to the house, he met the lady’s poodle in a fawn-coloured wrap coming out in charge of a footman for its daily walk round the square.

He gave the name of “Father Storm,” and after some minutes of waiting he was told that the lady had a headache and was not receiving that day.

“Say the nephew of the Prime Minister wishes to see her,” said John.

Before the footman had returned again there was the gentle rustle of a dress on the stairs, and the lady herself was saying:  “Dear Mr. Storm, come up.  My servants are real tiresome, they are always confusing names.”

Time had told on her; she was looking elderly, and the wrinkles about her eyes could no longer be smoothed out.  But her “front” was curled, and she was still saturated in perfume.

“I heard of your return, dear Mr. Storm,” she said, in the languid voice of the great lady, but the accent of St. Louis, as she led the way to the drawing-room.  “My daughter told me about it.  She was always interested in your work, you know....  Oh, yes, quite well, and having a real good time in Paris.  Of course, you know she has been married.  A great loss to me naturally, but being God’s will I felt it was my duty as a mother ” and then a pathetic description of her maternal sentiments, consoled by the circumstance that her son-in-law belonged to “one of the best families,” and that she was constantly getting newspapers from “the other side” containing full accounts of the wedding and of the dresses that were worn at it.

John twirled his hat in his hand and listened.

“And what are your dear devoted people doing down there in Soho?”

Then John told of his work for working girls, and the great lady pretended to be deeply interested.  “Why, they’ll soon be better than the upper classes,” she said.

John thought it was not improbable, but he went on to tell of his scheme, and how small was the sum required for its execution.

“Only three thousand!  That ought to be easily fixed up.  Why, certainly!”

“Charity is the salt of riches, madam, and if rich people would remember that their wealth is a trust ”

“I doI always do.  ’Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth’what a beautiful text that is!”

“I’m glad to hear you say so, madam.  So many Christian people allow that God is the God of the widow and fatherless, while the gods they really worship are the gods of silver and gold.”

“But I love the dear children, and I like to go to the institution to see them in their nice white pinafores making their curtsies.  But what you say is real true, Mr. Storm; and since I came from Sent Louis I’ve seen considerable people who are that silly about cats ” and then a long story of the folly of a lady friend who once had a pet Persian, but it died, and she wore crape for it, and you could never mention a cat in her hearing afterward.

At that moment the poodle came back from its walk, and the lady called it to her, fondled it affectionately, said it was a present from her poor dear husband, and launched into an account of her anxieties respecting it, being delicate and liable to colds, notwithstanding the trousseau (it was a lady poodle) which the fashionable dog tailor in Regent Street had provided for it.

John got up to take his leave.  “May I then count on your kind support on behalf of our poor women and children of Soho?”

“Ah, of course, that matterwell, you see the Archdeacon kindly comes to talk ‘City’ with mein fact, I’m expecting him to-dayand I never do anything without asking his advice, never, in my present state of healthI have a weak heart, you know,” with her head aside and her saturated pocket-handkerchief at her nose.  “But has the Prime Minister done anything?”

“He has advanced me two thousand pounds.”

“Really?” rising and kicking back her train.  “Well, as I say, we ought to fix it right away.  Why not hold a meeting in my drawing-room?  All denominations, you say?  I don’t mindnot in a cause like that,” and she glanced round her room as if thinking it was always possible to disinfect it afterward.

Somebody was coughing loudly in the hall as John stepped downstairs.  It was the Archdeacon coming in.  “Ah,” he exclaimed, with a flourish of the hand, greeting John as if they had parted yesterday and on the best of terms.  Yes, there had been changes, and he was promoted to a sphere of higher usefulness.  True, his good friends had looked for something still higher, but it was the premier archdeaconry at all events, and in the Church, as in life generally, the spirit of compromise ruled everything.  He asked what John was doing, and on being told he said, with a somewhat more worldly air, “Be careful, my dear Storm, don’t encourage vice.  For my part, I am tired of the ‘fallen sister.’  To tell you the truth, I deny the name.  The painted Jezebel of the Piccadilly pavement is no sister of mine.”

“We don’t choose our relations, Archdeacon,” said John.  “If God is our Father, then all men are our brothers, and all women are our sisters whether we like it or not.”

“Ah!  The same man still, I see.  But we will not quarrel about words.  Seen the dear Prime Minister lately?  Not very lately?  Ah, well”with a superior smile“the air of Downing Streetit’s so bad for the memory, they say,” and coughing loudly again, he stepped upstairs.

John Storm went home that day light-handed but with a heavy heart.

“Begging is an ill trade on a fast day, laddie,” said Mrs. Callender.  “Sit you down and tak’ some dinner.”

“How dare these people pray, ‘Our Father which art in heaven?’ It’s blasphemy!  It’s deceit!”

“Aye, and they would deceive God about their dividends if he couldn’t see into their safes.”

“Their money is the meanest thing Heaven gives them.  If I asked them for their health or their happiness, Lord God, what would they say?”

On the Sunday night following John Storm preached to an overflowing congregation from the text, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

But a few weeks afterward his face was bright and his voice was cheery, and he was writing another letter to Glory: 

“In full swing at last, Glory.  To carry out my new idea I had to get three thousand pounds more of my mother’s money from my uncle.  He gave it up cheerfully, only saying he was curious to see what approach to the Christian ideal the situation of civilization permitted.  But Mrs. Callender is dour, and every time I spend sixpence of my own money on the Church she utters withering sarcasms about being only a ’daft auld woman hersel’,’ and then I have to caress and coax her.

“The newspapers were facetious about my ‘Baby Houses’ until they scented the Prime Minister at the back of them, and now they call them the ’Storm Shelters,’ and christen my nightly processions ‘The White-cross Army.’  Even the Archdeacon has begun to tell the world how he ‘took an interest’ in me from the first and gave me my title.  I met him again the other day at a rich woman’s house, where we had only one little spar, and yesterday he wrote urging me to ‘organize my great effort,’ and have a public dinner in honour of its inauguration.  I did not think God’s work could be well done by people dining in herds and drinking bottles of champagne, but I showed no malice.  In fact, I agreed to hold a meeting in the lady’s drawing-room, to which clergymen, laymen, and members of all denominations are being invited, for this is a cause that rises above all differences of dogma, and I intend to try what can be done toward a union of Christendom on a social basis.  Mrs. Callender is dour on that subject too, reminding me that where the carcass is there will the eagles be gathered together.  The Archdeacon thinks we must have the meeting before the twelfth of August, or not until after the middle of September, and Mrs. Callender understands this to mean that ’the Holy Ghost always goes to sleep in the grouse season.’

“Meantime my Girls’ Club goes like a forest fire.  We are in our renovated clergy-house at last, and have everything comfortable.  Two hundred members already, chiefly dressmakers and tailors, and girls out of the jam and match factories.  The bright, merry young things, rejoicing in their brief blossoming time between girlhood and womanhood.  I love to be among them and to look at their glistening eyes!  Mrs. Callender blows withering blasts on this head also, saying it is no place for a ‘laddie,’ whereupon I lie low and think much but say nothing.

“Our great night is Sunday night after service.  Yes, indeed, Sunday!  That’s just when the devil’s houses are all open round about us, and why should God’s house be shut up?  It is all very well for the people who have only one Sabbath in the week to keep it wholly holyI have seven, being a follower of Jesus, not of Moses.  But the rector of the parish has begun to complain of my ‘intrusion,’ and to tell the Bishop I ought to be ‘mended or ended.’  It seems that my ‘doings’ are ’indecent and unnecessary,’ and my sermons are ’a violation of all the sanctities, all the modesties of existence.’  Poor dumb dog, teaching the Gospel of Don’t!  The world has never been reformed by ‘resignation’ to the evils of life, or converted by ‘silence’ either.

“How I wish you were here, in the midst of it all!  Andwho knows?perhaps you will be some day yet.  Do not trouble to answer thisI will write again soon, and may then have something practical to say to you. Au revoir!