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

A fortnight had passed, and John Storm had not yet visited Glory.  Nevertheless, he had heard of her from day to day through the medium of the newspapers.  Every morning he had glanced down the black columns for the name that stood out from them as if its letters had been printed in blood.  The reports had been many and mysterious.  First, the brilliant young artiste, who had made such an extraordinary impression some months before, had returned to London and would shortly resume the promising career which had been interrupted by illness and family bereavement.  Next, the forthcoming appearance would be on the regular stage, and in a Shakespearian character, which was always understood to be a crucial test of histrionic genius.  Then, the revival of Romeo and Juliet, which had formerly been in contemplation, would probably give way to the still more ambitious project of an entirely new production by a well-known Scandinavian author, with a part peculiarly fitted to the personality and talents of the debutante.  Finally, a syndicate was about to be formed for the purchase of some old property, with a view to its reconstruction as a theatre, in the interests of the new play and the new player.

John Storm laughed bitterly.  He told himself that Glory was unworthy of the least of his thoughts.  It was his duty to go on with his work and think of her no more.

He had received his official notice to quit.  The church was to be given up in a month, the clergy-house in two months, and he believed himself to be immersed in preparations for the rehousing of the club and home.  Twenty young mothers and their children now lived in the upper rooms, under obedience to the Sisterhood, but Polly’s boy had remained with Mrs. Pincher.  From time to time he had seen the little one tethered to a chair by a scarf about its waist, creeping by the wall to the door, and there gazing out on the world with looks of intelligence, and babbling to it in various inarticulate noises.  “Boo-loo!  Lal-la!  Mum-um!” The little dark face had the eyes of its mother, but it represented Glory for all that.  John Storm loved to see it.  He felt that he could never part with it, and that if Lord Robert Ure himself came and asked for it he would bundle him out of doors.

But a carriage drew up at Mrs. Callender’s one morning, and Lady Robert Ure stepped out.  Her pale and patient face had the feeble and nervous smile of the humiliated and unloved.

“Mr. Storm,” she said in her gentle voice, “I have come on a delicate errand.  I can not delay any longer a duty I ought to have discharged before.”

It was about Polly’s baby.  She had heard of what had happened at the hospital; and the newspapers which had followed her to Paris, with reports of her wedding, had contained reports of the girl’s death also.  Since her return she had inquired about the child, and discovered that it had been rescued by him and was now in careful keeping.

“But it is for me to look after it, Mr. Storm, and I beg of you to give it up to me.  Something tells me that God will never give me children of my own, so I shall be doing no harm to any one, and my husband need never know whose child it is I adopt.  I promise you to be good to it.  It shall never leave me.  And if it should live to be a man, and grow to love me, that will help me to forget the past and to forgive myself for my own share in it.  Oh, it is little I can do for the poor girl who is gonefor, after all, she loved him and I took him from her.  But this is my duty, Mr. Storm, and I can not sleep at night or rest in the day until it is begun.”

“I don’t know if it is your duty, dear lady, but if you wish for the child it is your right,” said John Storm, and they got into the carriage and drove to Soho.

“Boo-loo!  Lal-la!  Mum-um!” The child was tethered to the chair as usual and talking to the world according to its wont.  When it was gone and the women on the doorsteps could see no more of the fine carriage of the great lady who had brought the odour of perfume and the rustle of silk into the dingy court, and Mrs. Pincher had turned back to the house with red eyes and her widow’s cap awry, John Storm told himself that everything was for the best.  The last link with Glory was broken!  Thank God for that!  He might go on with his work now and need think of her no more!

That day he called at Clement’s Inn.

The Garden House was a pleasant dwelling, fronting on two of its sides to the garden of the ancient Inn of Chancery, and cosily furnished with many curtains and rugs.  The Cockney maid who answered the door was familiar in a moment, and during the short passage from the hall to the floor above she communicated many things.  Her name was Liza; she had heard him preach; he had made her cry; “Miss Gloria” had known her former mistress, and Mr. Drake had got her the present place.

There was a sound of laughter from the drawing-room.  It was Glory’s voice.  When the door opened she was standing in the middle of the floor in a black dress and with a pale face, but her eyes were bright and she was laughing merrily.  She stopped when John Storm entered and looked confused and ashamed.  Drake, who was lounging on the couch, rose and bowed to him, and Miss Macquarrie, who was correcting long slips of printer’s proofs at a desk by the window, came forward and welcomed him.  Glory held his hand with her long hand-clasp and looked steadfastly into his eyes.  His face twitched and her own blushed deeply, and then she talked in a nervous and jerky way, reproaching him for his neglect of her.

“I have been busy,” he began, and then stopped with a sense of hypocrisy.  “I mean worried and tormented,” and then stopped again, for Drake had dropped his head.

She laughed, though there was nothing to laugh at, and proposed tea, rattling along in broken sentences that were spoken with a tremulous trill, which had a suggestion of tears behind it.  “Shall I ring for tea, Rosa?  Oh, you have rung for tea!  Ah, here it comes!Thank you, Liza.  Set it here,” seating herself.  “Now who says the ‘girl’?  Remember?” and then more laughter.

At that moment there was another arrival.  It was Lord Robert Ure.  He kissed Rosa’s hand, smiled on Glory, saluted Drake familiarly, and then settled himself on a low stool by the tea-table, pulled up the knees of his trousers, relaxed the congested muscles of one half of his face, and let fall his eyeglass.

Drake was handing out the cups as Glory filled them.  He was looking at her attentively, vexed at the change in her manner since John Storm entered.  When he returned to his seat on the sofa he began to twitch the ear of her pug, which lay coiled up asleep beside him, calling it an ugly little pestilence, and wondering why she carried it about with her.  Glory protested that it was an angel of a dog, whereupon he supposed it was now dreaming of paradiselisten!and then there were audible snores in the silence, and everybody laughed, and Glory screamed.

“I declare, on my honour, my dear,” said Drake with a mischievous look at John, “the creature is uglier than the beast that did the business on the day we eloped.”

“Eloped!” cried Rosa and Lord Robert together.

“Why, did you never hear that Glory eloped with me?”

Glory was trying to drown his voice with hollow laughter.

“She was seven and I was six and a half, and she had proposed to me in the orchard the day before!”

“Anybody have more tea?  No?  Some sally-lunn, perhaps?” and then more laughter.

“Hold your tongue, Glory!  Nobody wants your tea!  Let us hear the story,” said Rosa.

“Why, yes, certainly,” said Lord Robert, and everybody laughed again.

“She was all for travel and triumphal processions in those days ”

Glory stopped her ears and began to sing: 

  Willy, Willy Wilkin,
  Kissed the maid a-milkin’! 
    Fa, la la!

“There were so many things people could do if they wouldn’t waste so much time working ”

  Willy, Willy Wilkin
  Kissed the maid

“Glory, if you don’t be quiet we’ll turn you out!” and Rosa got up and nourished her proofs.

“I had brought my dog, and when I called her a ”

But Glory had leaped to her feet and fled from the room.  Drake had leaped up also, and now, putting his back against the door, he raised his voice and went on with his story.

“Somebody saved us, though, and she lay in his arms and kissed him all the way home again.”

Glory was strumming on the door and singing to drown his voice.  When the story was ended and she was allowed to come back she was panting and gasping with laughter, but there were tears in her eyes for all that, and Lord Robert was saying, with a sidelong look toward John Storm, “Really, this ought to be a scene in the new Sigurdsen, don’t you know!”

John had retired within himself during this nonsense.  He had been feeling an intense hatred of the two men, and was looking as gloomy as deep water.  “All acting, sheer acting,” he thought, and then he told himself that Glory was only worthy of his contempt.  What could attract her in the society of such men?  Only their wealth, and their social station.  Their intellectual and moral atmosphere must weary and revolt her.

Rosa had to go to her newspaper office, and Drake saw her to the door.  John rose at the same time, and Glory said, “Going already?” but she did not try to detain him.  She would see him again; she had much to say to him.  “I suppose you were surprised to hear that I had returned to London?” she said, looking up at his knitted brows.

He did not answer immediately, and Lord Robert, who was leaning against the chimney-piece, said in his cold drawl, “Your friend ought to be happy that you have returned to London, seems to me, my dear, instead of wasting your life in that wilderness.”

John drew himself up.  “It’s not London I object to,” he said; “that was inevitable, I dare say.”

“What then?”

“The profession she has come back to follow.”

“Why, what’s amiss with the profession?” said Lord Robert, and Drake, who returned to the room at the moment, said:  “Yes, what’s amiss with it?  Some of the best men in the world have belonged to it, I think.”

“Tell me the name of one of them, since the world began, who ever lived an active Christian life.”

Lord Robert made a kink of laughter, and, turning to the window, began to play a tune with his finger tips on the glass of a pane.  Drake struggled to keep a straight face, and answered, “It is not their rôle, sir.”

“Very well, if that’s too much to ask, tell me how many of them have done anything in real life, anything for the world, for humanityanything whatever, I don’t care what it is.”

“You are unreasonable, sir,” said Drake, “and such objections could as properly apply to the professions of the painter and the musician.  These are the children of joy.  Their first function is to amuse.  And surely amusement has its place in real life, as you say.”

“On the contrary,” said John, following his own thought, for he had not listened, “how many of them have lived lives of reckless abandonment, self-indulgence, and even scandalous license!”

“Those are abuses that apply equally to other professions, sir.  Even the Church is not free from them.  But in the view of reasonable beings one clergyman of evil lifenay, one hundredwould not make the profession of the clergy bad.”

“A profession,” said John, “which appeals above all to the senses, and lives on the emotions, and fosters jealousy and vanity and backbiting, and develops duplicity, and exists on lies, and does nothing to encourage self-sacrifice or to help suffering humanity, is a bad profession and a sinful one!”

“If a profession is sinful,” said Drake, “in proportion as it appeals to the senses, and lives on the emotions, and develops duplicity, then the profession of the Church is the most sinful in the world, for it offers the greatest temptations to lying, and produces the worst hypocrites and impostors!”

“That,” said John, with eyes flashing and passion vibrating in his voice“that, sir, is the great Liar’s everlasting lieand you know it!”

Glory was between them with uplifted hands.  “Peace, peace!  Blessed is the peacemaker!  But tea!  Will nobody take more tea?  Oh, dear! oh, dear!  Why can’t we have tea over again?”

“I know what you mean, sir,” said Drake.  “You mean that I have brought Glory back to a life of danger and vanity, and sloth and sensuality.  Very well.  I deny your definition.  But call it what you will, I have brought her back to the only life her talents are fit for, and if that’s all ”

“Would you have done the same for your own sister?”

“How dare you introduce my sister’s name in this connection?”

“And how dare you resent it?  What’s good for one woman is good for another.”

Glory was turning aside, and Drake was looking ashamed.  “Of coursenaturallyall I meant,” he faltered“if a girl has to earn her living, whatever her talents, her geniusthat is one thing.  But the upper classes, I mean the leisured classes ”

“Damn the leisured classes, sir!” said John, and in the silence that followed the men looked round, but Glory was gone from the room.

Lord Robert, who had been whistling at the window, said to Drake in a cynical undertone:  “The man is hipped and sore.  He has lost his challenge, and we ought to make allowances for him, don’t you know.”

Drake tried to laugh.  “I’m willing to make allowances,” he said lightly; “but when a man talks to me as ifas if I meant to ” but the light tone broke down, and he faced round upon John and burst out passionately:  “What right have you to talk to me like this?  What is there in my character, in my life, that justifies it?  What woman’s honour have I betrayed?  What have I done that is unworthy of the character of an English gentleman?”

John took a stride forward and came face to face and eye to eye with him.  “What have you done?” he said.  “You have used a woman as your decoy to win your challenge, as you say, and you have struck me in the face with the hand of the woman I love!  That’s what you’ve done, sir, and if it’s worthy of the character of an English gentleman, then God help England!”

Drake put his hand to his head and his flushed face turned pale.  But Lord Robert Ure stepped forward and said with a smile:  “Well, and if you’ve lost your church so much the better.  You are only an outsider in the ecclesiastical stud anyway.  Who wants you?  Your rector doesn’t want you; your Bishop doesn’t want you.  Nobody wants you, if you ask me.”

“I don’t ask you, Lord Robert,” said John.  “But there’s somebody who does want me for all that.  Shall I tell you who it is?  It’s the poor and helpless girl who has been deceived by the base and selfish man, and then left to fight the battle of life alone, or to die by suicide and go shuddering down to hell!  That’s who wants me, and, God willing, I mean to stand by her.”

“Damme, sir, if you mean me, let me tell you what you are,” said Lord Robert, screwing up his eyeglass.  “You”shaking his head right and left“you are a man who takes delicately nurtured ladies out of sheltered homes and sends them into holes and hovels in search of abandoned women and their misbegotten children!  Why”turning to Drake-"what do you think has happened?  My wife has fallen under this gentleman’s influencethe poor simpleton!and not one hour before I left my house she brought home a child which he had given her to adopt.  Think of it!out of the shambles of Soho, and God knows whose brat and bastard!”

The words were hardly out of the man’s mouth when John Storm had taken him by both shoulders.  “God does know,” he said, “and so do I!  Shall I tell you whose child that is?  Shall I?  It’s yours!” The man saw it coming and turned white as a ghost.  “Yours! and your wife has taken up the burden of your sin and shame, for she’s a good woman, and you are not fit to live on the earth she walks upon!”

He left the two men speechless and went heavily down the stairs.  Glory was waiting for him at the door.  Her eyes were glistening after recent tears.

“You will come no more?” she said.  She could read him like a book.  “I can see that you intend to come no more.”

He did not deny it, and after a moment she opened the door and he passed out with a look of utter weariness.  Then she went back to her room and flung herself on the bed, face downward.

The men in the drawing-room were beginning to recover themselves.  Lord Robert was humming a tune, Drake pacing to and fro.

“Buying up his church to make a theatre for Glory was the very refinement of cruelty!” said Drake.  “Good heavens! what possessed me?”

“Original sin, dear boy!” said Lord Robert, with a curl of the lip.

“Original?  A bad plagiarism, you mean!”

“Very well.  If I helped you to do it, shall I help you to give it up?  Withdraw the prospectus and return the deposits on sharesthe dear Archdeacon’s among the rest.”

Drake took up his hat and left the house.  Lord Robert followed him presently.  Then the drawing-room was empty, and the hollow sound of sobbing came down to it from the bedroom above.

Father Storm read prayers in church that night with a hard and absent heart.  A terrible impulse of hate had taken hold of him.  He hated Drake, he hated Glory, he hated himself most of all, and felt as if seven devils had taken possession of him, and he was a hypocrite, and might fall dead at the altar.

“But what a fate the Almighty has saved me from!” he thought.  Glory would have been a drag on his work for life.  He must forget her.  She was only worthy of his contempt.  Yet he could not help but remember how beautiful she had looked in her mourning dress, with that pure pale face and its signs of suffering!  Or how charming she had seemed to him even in the midst of all that deception!  Or how she had held him as by a spell!

Going home he came upon a group of men in the Court.  One of them planted himself full in front and said with an insolent swagger:  “Me and my mytes thinks there’s too many parsons abart ’ere.  What do you think, sir?”

“I think there are more gamblers and thieves, my lad,” he answered, and at the next instant the man had struck him in the face.  He closed with the ruffian, grappled him by the throat, and flung him on his back.  One moment he held him there, writhing and gasping, then he said, “Get up, and get off, and let me see no more of you!”

“No, sir, not this time,” said a voice above his back.  The crowd had melted away and a policeman stood beside them.  “I’ve been waiting for this one for weeks, Father,” he said, and he marched the man to jail.

It was Charlie Wilkes.  At the trial of Mrs. Jupe that morning, Aggie, being a witness, had been required to mention his name.  It was all in the evening papers, and he had been dismissed from his time-keeping at the foundry.