Read SANCTUARY - CHAPTER III. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on ReadCentral.com.

That morning, when John Storm went to take seven-o’clock celebration, the knocker-up with his long stick had not yet finished his rounds in the courts and alleys about the church, but the costers with their barrows and donkeys, their wives and their children, were making an early start for Epsom.  There were many communicants, and it was eight o’clock before he returned to his rooms.  By that time the postman had made his first delivery and there was a letter from the Prime Minister.  “Come to Downing Street as soon as this reaches you.  I must see you immediately.”

He ate his breakfast of milk and brown bread, said “Good-bye, Brother Andrew, I shall be back for evening service,” whistled to the dog, and set out into the streets.  But a sort of superstitious fear had taken hold of him, as if an event of supreme importance in his life was impending, and before answering his uncle’s summons he made a round of the buildings in the vicinity which were devoted to the work of his mission.  His first visit was to the school.  The children had assembled, and they were being marshalled in order by the Sisters and prepared for their hymn and prayer.

“Good-morning, Father.”

“Good-morning, children.”

Many of them had presents for himone a flower, another a biscuit, another a marble, and yet another an old Christmas card.  “God bless them, and protect them!” he thought, and he left the school with a full heart.

His last visit was to the men’s shelter which he had established under the management of his former “organ man,” Mr. Jupe.  It was a bare place, a shed which had been a stable and was now floored and ceiled.  Beds resembling the bunks in the foc’s’le of a ship lined the walls.  When these were full the lodgers lay on the ground.  A blanket only was provided.  The men slept in their clothes, but rolled up their coats for pillows.  There was a stove where they might cook their food if they had money to buy any.  A ha’p’orth of tea and sugar mixed, a ha’p’orth of bread, and a ha’p’orth of butter made a royal feast.

Going through the square in which his church stood he passed a smart gig at the door of a public-house that occupied the corner of a street.  The publican in holiday clothes was stepping up to the driver’s seat, and a young soldier, smoking a cigarette, was taking the place by his side.  “Morning, Father, can you tip us the winner?” said the publican with a grin, while the soldier, with an impudent smile, cried “Ta-ta” over his shoulder to the second story of a tenement house, where a young woman with a bloated and serious face and a head mopped up in curl-papers was looking down from an open window.

It was nine o’clock when John Storm reached the Prime Minister’s house.  A small crowd of people had followed him to the door.  “His lordship is waiting for you in the garden, sir,” said the footman, and John was conducted to the back.

In a shady little inclosure between Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade the Prime Minister was pacing to and fro.  His head was bent, his step was heavy, he looked harassed and depressed.  At sight of John’s monkish habit he started with surprise and faltered uneasily.  But presently, sitting by John’s side on a seat under a tree, and keeping his eyes away from him, he resumed their old relations and said: 

“I sent for you, my boy, to warn you and counsel you.  You must give up this crusade.  It is a public danger, and God knows what harm may come of it!  Don’t suppose I do not sympathize with you.  I doto a certain extent.  And don’t think I charge you with all the follies of this ridiculous distemper.  I have followed you and watched you, and I know that ninety-nine hundredths of this madness is not yours.  But in the eye of the public you are responsible for the whole of it, and that is the way of the world always.  Enthusiasm is a good thing, my boy; it is the rainbow in the heaven of youth, but it may go too far.  It may be hurtful to the man who nourishes it and dangerous to society.  The world classes it with lunacy and love and so forth among the nervous accidents of life; and the humdrum healthy-minded herd always call that man a fool and a weakling or else a fanatic and a madman, in whom the grand errors of human nature are due to an effortmay I not say, a vain effort?to live up to a great ideal.”  There were nervous twitchings over the muscles of John’s face.  “Come, now, come, for the sake of peace and tranquillity, lest there should be disorder and even death, let this matter rest.  Think, my boy, think, we are as much concerned for the world’s welfare as you can be, and we have higher claims and heavier responsibilities.  I can not raise a hand to help you, John.  In the nature of things I can not defend you.  I sent for you becausebecause you are your mother’s son.  Don’t cast on me a heavier burden than I can bear.  Save yourself and spare me.”

“What do you wish me to do, uncle?”

“Leave London immediately and stay away until this tumult has settled down.”

“Ah, that is impossible, sir.”

“Impossible?”

“Quite impossible, and though I did not make these predictions about the destruction of London, yet I believe we are on the eve of a great change.”

“You do?”

“Yes, and if you had not sent for me I should have called on you, to ask you to set aside a day for public prayer that God may in his mercy avert the calamity that is coming or direct it to the salvation of his servants.  The morality of the nation is on the decline, uncle, and when morality is lacking the end is not far off.  England is given up to idleness, pomp, dissolute practices, and pleasurepleasure, always pleasure.  The vice of intemperance, the mania for gambling, these are the vultures that are consuming the vitals of our people.  Look at the luxury of the countrya ludicrous travesty of national greatness!  Look at the tastes and habits of our agethe deadliest enemies of true religion!  And then look at the price we are paying in what the devil calls ’the priestesses of society’ for the tranquillity of the demon of lust!”

“But my boy, my dear boy ”

“Oh, yes, uncle, yes, I know, I know, many humanitarian schemes are afloat and we think we are not indifferent to the condition of the poor.  But contrast the toiling women of East London with the idlers of Hyde Park in a London season.  Other nations have professed well with their lips while their hearts have been set on wealth and pleasure.  And they have fallen!  Yes, sir, in ancient Asia as well as in modern Europe they have always fallen.  And unless we unglue ourselves from the vanities which imperil our existence we shall fall too.  The lust of pleasure and the lust of wealth bring their own revenges.  In the nation as well as the individual the Almighty destroys them as of old.”

“Truetrue!”

“Then how can I hold my peace or run away while it is the duty of Christians, of patriots, to cry out against this danger?  On the soul of every one of us the duty rests, and who am I that I should escape from it?  Oh, if the Church only realized her responsibility, if she only kept her eyes open ”

“She has powerful reasons for keeping them closed, my son,” said the Minister, “and always will have until the Establishment is done away with.  It is coming to that some day, but meantime have a care.  The clergy are not your friends, John.  Statesmen know too well the clerical cruelty which shelters itself behind the secular arm.  It is an old story, I think, and you may find instances of that also in your ancient Palestine.  But beware, my boy, beware ”

“’Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.  Ye know that it hated me before it hated you.’”

The exaltation of John’s manner was increasing, and again the Prime Minister became uneasy, as if fearing that the young monk by his side would ask him next to kneel and pray.

“Ah, well,” he said, rising, “I suppose there is no help for it, and matters must take their own course.”  Then he broke into other subjects, talked of his brother, John’s father, whom he had lately heard from.  His health was failing, he could not last very long; a letter from his son now might make all things well.

John was silent, his head was down, but the Prime Minister could see that his words took no effect.  Then his bleak old face smiled a wintry smile as he said: 

“But you are not mending much in one way, my boy.  Do you know you’ve never once been here since the day you came to tell me you were to be married, and intended to follow in the footsteps of Father Damien?”

John flinched, and the muscles of his face twitched nervously again.

“That was an impossible enterprise, John.  No wonder the lady couldn’t suffer you to follow it.  But she might have allowed you to see a lonely old kinsman for all that.”  John’s pale face was breaking, and his breath was coming fast.  “Well, well,” taking his arm, “I’m not reproaching you, John.  There are passions of the soul which eat up all the rest, I know that quite well, and when a man is under the sway of them he has neither father nor uncle, neither kith nor kin.  Good-bye!...  Ah, this way outthis way.”

The footman had stepped up to the Minister and whispered something about a crowd in front of the house, and John was passed out of the garden by the back door into the park.

Three hours afterward the frequenters of Epsom racecourse saw a man in a black cassock get up into an unoccupied wagonette and make ready to speak.  He was on the breast of “The Hill,” directly facing the Grand Stand, in a close pack of carriages, four-in-hands, landaus, and hansoms, filled with gaily dressed women in pink and yellow costumes, drinking champagne and eating sandwiches, and being waited upon by footmen in livery.  It was the interval between two events of the race meeting, and beyond the labyrinth of vehicles there was a line of betting men in outer garments of blue silk and green alpaca, standing on stools under huge umbrellas and calling the odds to motley crowds of sweltering people on foot.

“Men and women,” he began, and five thousand faces seemed to rise at the sound of his voice.  The bookmakers kept up their nasal cries of “I lay on the field!” “Five to-one bar one!” But the crowd turned and deserted them.  “It’s the Father,” “Father Storm,” the people said, with laughter and chuckling, loose jests and some swearing, but they came up to him with one accord until the space about, him, as far as to the roadway by which carriages climbed the hill, was an unbroken pavement of rippling faces.

“Good old Father!” and then laughter.  “What abart the end of the world, old gel?” and then references to “the petticoats” and more laughter.  “’Ere, I’ll ’ave five bob each way, Resurrection,” and shrieks of wilder laughter still.

The preacher stood for some moments silent and unshaken.  Then the quiet dignity of the man and the love of fair play in the crowd secured him a hearing.  He began amid general silence: 

“I don’t know if it is contrary to regulations to stand here to speak, but I am risking that for the urgency of the hour and message.  Men and women, you are here under false pretences.  You pretend to yourselves and to each other that you have come out of a love of sport, but you have not done so, and you know it.  Sport is a plausible pleasure; to love horses and take delight in their fleetness is a pardonable vanity, but you are here to practise an unpardonable vice.  You have come to gamble, and your gambling is attended by every form of intemperance and immorality.  I am not afraid to tell you so, for God has laid upon me a plain message, and I intend to do my duty.  These race-courses are not for horse-racing, but for reservoirs of avarice and drunkenness and prostitution.  Don’t think”he was looking straight into the painted faces of the women in pink and yellow, who were trying to smile and look amused“don’t think I am going to abuse the unhappy girls who are forced by a corrupt civilization to live by their looks.  They are my friends, and half my own life is spent among them.  I have known some of them in whose hearts dwelt heavenly purity, and when I think of what they have suffered from men I feel ashamed that I am a man.  But, my sisters, for you, too, I have an urgent message.  It is full summer with you now, as you sit here in your gay clothes on this bright day; but the winter is coming for every one of you, when there will be no more sunshine, no more luxury and pleasure and flattery, and when the miry wallowers in troughs and stys, who are now taking the best years of your lives from you ”

“Helloa there!  Whoop!  Tarará-ra-ra-rara!”

A four-in-hand coach was dashing headlong up the hill amid clouds of dust, the rattling of wheels, the shouts of the driver and the blasts of the horn, and the people who covered the roadway were surging forward to make room for it.

“It’s Gloria!” said everybody, looking up at the occupants of the coach and recognising one of them.

The spell of the preacher was broken.  He paused and turned his head and saw Glory.  She was sitting tall and bright and gay on the box-seat by the side of Drake; the rays of the sun were on her and she was smiling up into his face.

The preacher began again, then faltered, and then stopped.  A bell at the Grand Stand was ringing.  “Numbers goin’ up,” said everybody, and before any one could be conscious of what was happening, John Storm was only a cipher in the throng, and the crowd was melting away.