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

John Storm had left home early on Monday morning.  It was the last day of his tenancy of the clergy-house, and there was much to do at Soho.  Toward noon he made his way to the church in Bishopsgate Street for the first time since he had left the Brotherhood.  It was midday service, and the little place was full of business men with their quick, eyes and eager faces.  The Superior preached, and the sermon was on the religious life.  We were each composed of two beings, one temporal, the other eternal, one carnal, the other spiritual.  Life was a constant warfare between these two nearly matched forces, and often the victory seemed to sway from this side to that.  Our enemy with the chariots of iron was ourselves.  There was a Judas in each one of us ready to betray us with a kiss if allowed.  The lusts of the flesh were the most deadly sins, absolute chastity the most pleasing to God of all virtues.  Did we desire to realize what the religious life could be?  Then let us reflect upon the news which had come from the South Seas.  What was the word that had fallen that morning on all Christendom like a thunderclap, say, rather, like the blast of a celestial trumpet?  Father Damien was dead!  Think of his lonely life in that distant island where doomed men lived out their days.  Cut off from earthly marriage, with no one claiming his affection in the same way as Christ, he was free to commit himself entirely to God and to God’s afflicted children.  He was truly married to Christ.  Christ occupied his soul as Lord and spouse.  Glorious life!  Glorious death!  Eternal crown of glory waiting for him in the glory everlasting!

When the service ended John Storm stepped up to speak to the Father.  His wide-open eyes were flaming; he was visibly excited.  “I came to ask a question,” he said, “but it is answered already.  I will follow Father Damien and take up his work.  I was thinking of the mission field, but my doubt was whether God had called me, and I had great fear of going uncalled.  God brought me here this morning, not knowing what I was to do, but now I know, and my mind is made up at last.”

The Father was not less moved.  They went out into the courtyard together and walked to and fro, planning, scheming, contriving, deciding.

“You’ll take the vows first, my son?”

“The vows?”

“The life vows.”

“Butbut will that be necessary?”

“It will be best.  Think what a peculiar appeal it have for those poor doomed creatures!  They are cut off from the world by a terrible affliction, but you will be cut off by the graciousness of a Christ-fed purity.  They are lepers made of disease; you will be as a leper for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”

“But, Fatherif that be sohow much greater the appeal will be ifif a woman goes out also!  Say she is young and beautiful and of great gifts?”

“Brother Andrew may go with you, my son.”

“Yes, Brother Andrew as well.  But holy men in all ages have been bound by ties of intimacy and affection to good women who have lived and worked beside them.”

“Sisters, my son, elder sisters always.”

“And why not?  Sister, indeed, and united to me by a great and spiritual love.”

“We are none of us invincible, my son; let us not despise danger.”

“Danger, Father!  What is the worth of my religion if it does not enable me to defy that?”

“Well, welldo not decide too soon.  I’ll come to you at Soho this evening.”

“Do.  It’s our last night there.  I must tell my poor people what my plans are to be.  Good-bye for the present, Father, good-bye.”

“Good-bye, my son,” and as John Storm went off with a light heart and bounding step the Father passed indoors with downcast face, saying to himself with a sigh, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

It was Lord Mayor’s Day again, the streets were thronged, and John Storm was long in forging his way home.  Glory’s letter was waiting for him, and he tore it open with nervous fingers, but when he had read it he laughed aloud.  “God bless her!  But she doesn’t know everything yet.”  Mrs. Callender was out in the carriage; she would be back for lunch, and the maid was laying the cloth; but he would not wait.  After scribbling a few lines in pencil to tell of his great resolve, he set off to Clement’s Inn.  The Strand was less crowded when he returned to it, and the newsboys were calling the evening papers with “Full Memoir of Father Damien.”

On coming home from rehearsal Glory had found the costume for her third act, her great act, awaiting her.  All day long she had been thinking of her letter to John, half ashamed of it, half regretting it, almost wishing it could be withdrawn.  But the dress made a great tug at her heart, and she could not resist the impulse to try it on.  The moment she had done so the visionary woman whose part she was to play seemed to take possession of her, and shame and regret were gone.

It was a magnificent stage costume, green as the grass in spring with the morning sun on it.  The gown was a splendid brocade with gold-embroidered lace around the square-cut neck and about the shoulders of the tight-made sleeves.  Round her hips was a sash of golden tissue, and its hanging ends were fringed with emeralds.  A band of azure stones encircled her head, and her fingers were covered with turquoise rings.

She went to the drawing-room, shut the door, and began to rehearse the scene.  It was where the imaginary Gloria, being vain and selfish, trampled everything under her feet that she might possess the world and the things of the world.  Glory spoke the words aloud, forgetting they were not her own, until she heard another voice saying, “May I come in, dear?”

It was John at the door.  She was ashamed of her costume then, but there was no running away.  “Yes, of course, come in,” she cried, trembling all over, half afraid to be seen, and yet proud too of her beauty and her splendour.  When he entered she was laughing nervously and was about to say, “See, this has happened before ”

But he saw nothing unusual, and she was disappointed and annoyed.  Coming in breathless, as if he had been running, he flung himself down on one end of the couch, threw his hat on the other end, and said:  “What did I tell you, Glory?  That a way would open itself, and it has!”

“Really?”

“Didn’t you think of it when you saw the news in the papers this morning?”

“What news?”

“That Father Damien is dead.”

“But can youdo you really mean thatdo you intend ”

“I do, GloryI do.”

“Then you didn’t get my letter this morning?”

“Oh, yes, dear, yes; but you were only thinking for meGod bless you!that I was giving up a great scene for a little one.  But thisthis is the greatest scene in the world, Glory.  Life is a small sacrifice; the true sacrifice is a living death, a living crucifixion.”

She felt as if he had taken her by the throat and was choking her.  He had got up and was walking to and fro, talking impetuously.

“Yes, it is a great sacrifice I am asking you to make now, dear.  That far-off island, the poor lepers, and then lifelong banishment.  But God will reward you, and with interest too.  Only think, Glory!  Think of the effect of your mere presence out there among those poor doomed creatures!  A young and beautiful woman!  Not a melancholy old dolt like me, preaching and prating to them, but a bright and brilliant girl, laughing with them, playing games with them, making mimicry for them, and singing to them in the voice of an angel.  Oh, they’ll love you, Glory, they’ll worship youyou’ll be next to God and his blessed mother with them.  And already I hear them saying among themselves:  ’Heaven bless her!  She might have had the world at her feet and made a great name and a great fortune, but she gave it all upall, all, allfor pity and love of us!’ Won’t it be glorious, my child?  Won’t it be the noblest thing in all the world?”

And she struggled to answer, “Yes, no doubtthe noblest thing in all the world!”

“Then you agree?  Ah, I knew your heart spoke in your first letter, and you wanted to leave London.  You shall, too, for God has willed it.”

Then she recovered a little and made a nervous attempt to withdraw.  “But the church at Westminster?”

He laughed like a boy.  “Oh, Golightly may have that now, and welcome.”

“But the work in London?”

“Ah, that’s all right, Glory.  Ever since I heard from you I have been dealing with the bonds which bound me to London one by one, unravelling some and breaking others.  They are all discharged now, every one of them, and I need think of them no more.  Self is put behind forever, and I can stand before God and say:  ’Do with me as you will; I am ready for anythinganything!’”

“Oh!”

“Crying, Glory?  My poor, dear child!  But why are you crying?”

“It’s nothing!”

“Are you surequite sure?  Am I asking too much of you?  Don’t let us deceive ourselvesthink ”

“Let us talk of something else now.”  She began to laugh.  “Look at me, Johndon’t I look well to-day?”

“You always look well, Glory.”

“But isn’t there any differencethis dress, for instance?”

Then his sight came back and his big eyes sparkled.  “How beautiful you are, dear!”

“Really?  Do I look nice thenreally?”

“My beautiful, beautiful girl!”

Her head was thrown back, and she glowed with joy.

“Don’t come too near me, you knowdon’t crush me.”

“Nay, no fear of thatI should be afraid.”

“Not that I mustn’t be touched exactly.”

“What will they think, I wonder, those poor, lost creatures, so ugly, so disfigured?”

“And my red hair.  This colour suits it, doesn’t it?”

“Some Madonna, they’ll say; the very picture of the mother of God herself!”

“Are youare you afraid of me in this frock, dear?  Shall I run and take it off?”

“Nono; let me look at you again.”

“But you don’t like me to-day, for all that.”

“I?”

“Do you know you’ve never once kissed me since you came into the room?”

“Glory!”

“My love! my love!”

“And you,” he said, close to her lips, “are you ready for anything?”

“Anything,” she whispered.

At the next moment she was holding herself off with her arms stiff about his neck, that she might look at him and at her lace sleeves at the same time.  Suddenly a furrow crossed his brow.  He had remembered the Father’s warning, and was summoning all his strength.

“But out there I’ll love you as a sister, Glory.”

“Ah!”

“For the sake of those poor doomed beings cut off from earthly love we’ll love each other as the angels love.”

“Yes, that is the highest, purest, truest love, no doubt.  Still ”

“What does the old Talmud say?’He who divorces himself from the joys of earth weds himself to the glories of Paradise.’”

Her lashes were still wet; she was gazing deep into his eyes.

“And to think of being united in the next world, Glorywhat happiness, what ecstasy!”

“Love me in this world, dearest,” she whispered.

“You’ll be their youth, Glory, their strength, their loveliness!”

“Be mine, darling, be mine!”

But the furrow crossed his brow a second time, and he disengaged himself before their lips had met again.  Then he walked about the room as before, talking in broken sentences.  They would have to leave soonvery soonalmost at once.  And now he must go back to Soho.  There was so much to do, to arrange.  On reaching the door he hesitated, quivering with love, hardly knowing how to part from her.  She was standing with head down, half angry and half ashamed.

“Well, au revoir,” he cried in a strained voice, and then fled down the stairs.  “The Father was right,” he thought.  “No man is invincible.  But, thank God, it is over!  It can never occur again!”

Her glow had left her, and she felt chilled and lost There was no help for it now, and escape was impossible.  She must renounce everything for the man who had renounced everything for her.  Sitting on the couch, she dropped her head on the cushion and cried like a child.  In the lowest depths of her soul she knew full well that she could never go away, but she began to bid good-bye in her heart to the life she had been living.  The charm and fascination of London began to pass before her like a panorama, with all the scenes of misery and squalor left out.  What a beautiful world she was leaving behind her!  She would remember it all her life long with useless and unending regret.  Her tears were flowing through the fingers which were clasped beneath her face.

A postman’s knock came to the door downstairs.  The letter was from the manager, written in the swirl and rush of theatrical life, and reading like a telegram:  “Theatre going on rapidly, men working day and night, rehearsals advanced and scenery progressing; might we not fix this day fortnight for the first performance?”

Inclosed with this was a letter from the author:  “You are on the eve of an extraordinary success, dear Gloria, and I write to reassure and congratulate you.  Some signs of inexperience I may perhaps observe, some lack of ease and simplicity, but already it is a performance of so much passion and power that I predict for it a triumphant success.  A great future awaits you.  Don’t shrink from it, don’t be afraid of it; it is as certain as that the sun will rise to-morrow.”

She carried the letter to her lips, then rose from the couch, and threw up her head, closed her eyes, and smiled.  The visionary woman was taking hold of her again with the slow grip and embrace of the glacier.

Rosa came home to dine, and at sight of the new costume she cried, “Shade of Titian, what a picture!” During dinner she mentioned that she had met Mr. Drake, who had said that the Prince was likely to be present at the production, having asked for the date and other particulars.

“But haven’t you heard the great news, dear?  It’s in all the late editions of the evening papers.”

“What is it?” said Glory; but she saw what was coming.

“Father Storm is to follow Father Damien.  That’s the report, at all events; but he is expected to make a statement at his club to-night, and I have to be there for the paper.”

As soon as dinner was over Rosa went off to Soho, and then Glory was brought back with a shock to the agony of her inward struggle.  She knew that her hour had arrived, and that on her action now everything depended.  She knew that she could never break the chains by which the world and her profession held her.  She knew that the other woman had come, that she must go with her, and go for good.  But the renunciation of love was terrible.  The day had been soft and beautiful.  It was falling asleep and yawning now, with a drowsy breeze that shook the yellow leaves as they hung withered and closed on the thinning boughs like the fingers of an old maid’s hand.  She was sitting at the desk by the window, trying to write a letter.  More than once she tore up the sheet, dried her eyes, and began again.  What she wrote last was this: 

“It is impossible, dear John.  I can not go with you to the South Seas.  I have struggled, but I can not, I can not!  It is the greatest, noblest, sublimest mission in the world, but I am not the woman for these high tasks.  I should be only a fruitless fig tree, a sham, a hypocrite.  It would be like taking a dead body with you to take me, for my heart would not be there.  You would find that out, dear, and I should be ashamed.

“And then I can not leave this lifeI can not give up London.  I am like a childI like the bustling streets, the brilliant thoroughfares, the crowds, the bands of music, the lights at night, and the sense of life.  I like to succeed, too, and to be admired, andyes, to hear the clapping of hands in a theatre.  You are above all this, and can look down at it as dross, and I like you for that also.  But give it all up I can’t; I haven’t the strength; it is in my blood, dear, and if I part from it I must die.

“And then I like to be fondled and coaxed and kissed, and I want so muchoh, so much to be loved!  I want somebody to tell me every day and always how much he loves me, and to praise me and pet me and forget everything else for me, everything, everything, even his own soul and salvation!  You can not do that; it would be sinful, and besides it wouldn’t be love as you understand it, and as it ought to be, if you are to go out to that solemn and awful task.

“When I said I loved you I spoke the truth, dear, and yet I didn’t know what the word meant really, I didn’t realize everything.  I love you stillwith all my heart and soul I love you; but now I know that there is a difference between us, that we can never come together.  No, I can not reach up to your austere heights.  I am so weak; you are so strong.  Your ‘strength is as the strength of ten because your heart is pure,’ while I

“I am unworthy of your thoughts, John.  Leave me to the life I have chosen.  It may be poor and vain and worthless, but it is the only life I’m fit for.  And yet I love youand you loved me.  I suppose God makes men and women like that sometimes, and it is no use struggling.

“One kiss, dearit is the last.”