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

“I thought it was God’s voiceit was the devil’s!”

John Storm was creeping like a thief through the streets of London in the dark hours before the dawn.  It was a peaceful night after the thunderstorm of the evening before.  A few large stars had come out, a clear moon, was shining, and the air was quiet after the cries, the crackling tumult, and all the fury of human throats.  There was only the swift rattling of mail cars running to the Post Office, the heavy clank of country carts crawling to Covent Garden, the measured tread of policemen, and the muddled laughter of drunken men and women by the coffee stands at the street corners. “’Ow’s the deluge, myte?  Not come off yet?  Well, give us a cup of cawfee on the strength of it.”

It seemed as if eyes looked down on him from the dark sky and pierced him through and through.  His whole life had been an imposture from the firsthis quarrel with his father, his taking Orders, his entering the monastery and his leaving it, his crusade in Soho, his intention of following Father Damien, his predictions at Westminsterall, all had been false, and the expression of a lie!  He was a sham, a mockery, a whited sepulchre, and had grossly sinned against the light and against God.

But the spiritual disillusion had come at last, and it had revealed him to himself at an awful depth of self-deception.  Thinking in his pride and arrogance he was the divine messenger, the avenger, the man of God, he had set out to shed blood like any wretched criminal, any jealous murderer who was driven along by devilish passion.  How the devil had played with him too!with him, who was dedicated by the most solemn and sacred vows!  And he had been as stubble before the windas chaff that the storm carrieth away!

With such feelings of poignant anguish he plodded through the echoing streets.  Mechanically he made his way back to Westminster.  By the time he got there the moon and stars had gone and the chill of daybreak was in the air.  He saw and heard nothing, but as he crossed Broad Sanctuary a line of mounted police trotted past him with their swords clanking.

It was not yet daylight when he knocked at the door of his chambers under the church.

“Who’s there?” came in a fierce whisper.

“Open the door,” he said in a spiritless voice.

The door was opened, and Brother Andrew, with the affectionate whine of a dog who has been snarling at his master in the dark, said:  “Oh, is it you, Father?  I thought you were gone.  Did you meet them?  They’ve been searching for you everywhere all night long.”

He still spoke in whispers, as if some one had been ill.  “I can’t light up.  They’d be sure to see and perhaps come back.  They’ll come in the morning in any case.  Oh, it’s terrible!  Worse than ever now!  Haven’t you heard what has happened?  Somebody has been killed!”

John was struggling to listen, but everything seemed to be happening a long way off.

“Well, not killed exactly, but badly hurt, and taken to the hospital.”

It was Charlie Wilkes.  He had insulted the name of the Father, and Pincher, the pawnbroker, had knocked him down.  His head had struck against the curb, and he had been picked up insensible.  Then the police had come and Pincher had been taken off to the police station.

“But it’s my mother I’m thinking of,” said Brother Andrew, and he brushed his sleeve across his eyes.  “You must get away at once, Father.  They’ll lay everything on you.  What’s to be done?  Let me think!  Let me think!  How my head is going round and round!  There’s a train from Euston to the north at five in the morning, isn’t there?  You must catch that.  Don’t speak, Father!  Don’t say you won’t.”

“I will go,” said John with a look of utter dejection.

The change that had come over him since the night before startled the lay brother.  “But I suppose you’ve been out all night.  How tired you look!  Can I get you anything?”

John did not answer, and the lay brother brought some brown bread and coaxed him to eat a little of it.  The day was beginning to dawn.

“Now you must go, Father.”

“And you, my lad?”

“Oh, I can take care of myself.”

“Go back to the Brotherhood; take the dog with you ”

“The dog!” Brother Andrew seemed to be about to say something; but he checked himself, and with a wild look he muttered:  “Oh, I know what I’ll do.  Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!” said John, and then the broken man was back in the streets.

His nervous system had been exhausted by the events of the night, and when he entered the railway station he could scarcely put one foot before another.  “Looks as if he’d had enough,” said somebody behind him.  He found an empty carriage and took his seat in the corner.  A kind of stupor had come over his faculties and he could neither think nor feel.

Three or four young men and boys were sorting and folding newspapers at a counter that stood on trestles before the closed-up bookstall.  A placard slipped from the fingers of one of them and fell on to the floor.  John saw his own name in monster letters, and he began to ask himself what he was doing.  Was he running away?  It was cowardly, it was contemptible!  And then it was so useless!  He might go to the ends of the earth, yet he could not escape the only enemy it was worth while to fly from.  That enemy was himself.

Suddenly he remembered that he had not taken his ticket, and he got out of the train.  But instead of going to the ticket office he stood aside and tried to think what he ought to do.  Then there was confusion and noise, people were hurrying past him, somebody was calling to him, and finally the engine whistled and the smoke rose to the roof.  When he came to himself the train was gone and he was standing on the platform alone.

“But what am I to do?” he asked himself.

It was a lovely summer morning and the streets were empty and quiet.  Little by little they became populous and noisy, and at length he was walking in a crowd.  It was nine o’clock by this time, and he was in the Whitechapel road, going along with a motley troop of Jews, Polish Jews, Germans, German Jews, and all the many tribes of Cockneydom.  Two costers behind him were talking and laughing.

“Lor’ blesh you, it’s jest abart enneff to myke a corpse laugh.”

“Ain’t it?  An acquyntince uv mined’ye know Jow ‘Awkins?  Him as kep’ the frahd fish shop off of Flower and Dean.  Yus?  Well, he sold his bit uv biziness lahst week for a song, thinkin’ the world was acomin’ to a end, and this mornin’ I meets ’im on the ‘Owben Viadeck lookin’ as if ’e’d ’ad the smallpox or semthink!”

John Storm had scarcely heard them.  He had a strange feeling that everything was happening hundreds of miles away.

“What am I to do?” he asked himself again.  Between twelve and one o’clock he was back in the city, walking aimlessly on and on.  He did not choose the unfrequented thoroughfares, and when people looked into his face he thought, “If anybody asks me who I am I’ll tell him.”  It was eight hours since he had eaten anything, and he felt weak and faint.  Coming upon a coffee-house, he went in and ordered food.  The place was full of young clerks at their midday meal.  Most of them were reading newspapers which they had folded and propped up on the tables before them, but two who sat near were talking.

“These predictions of the end of the world are a mania, a monomania, which recurs at regular intervals of the world’s history,” said one.  He was a little man with a turned-up nose.

“But the strange thing is that people go on believing them,” said his companion.

“That’s not strange at all.  This big, idiotic, amphorous London has no sense of humour.  See how industriously it has been engaged for the last month in the noble art of making a fool of itself!” And then he looked around at John Storm, as if proud of his tall language.

John did not listen.  He knew that everybody was talking about him, yet the matter did not seem to concern him now, but to belong to some other existence which his soul had had.

At length an idea came to him and he thought he knew what he ought to do.  He ought to go to the Brotherhood and ask to be taken back.  But not as a son this time, only as a servant, to scour and scrub to the end of his life.  There used to be a man to sweep out the church and ring the church bellhe might be allowed to do menial work like that.  He had proved false to his ideal, he had not been able to resist the lures of earthly love, but God was merciful.  He would not utterly reject him.

His self-abasement was abject, yet several hours had passed before he attempted to carry out this design.  It was the time of Evensong when he reached the church, and the brothers were singing their last hymn: 

  Jesus, lover of my soul,
    Let me to thy bosom fly.

He stood by the porch and listened.  The street was very quiet; hardly anybody was passing.

  Hide me, O my Saviour hide,
    Till the storms of life be past.

His heart surged up to his throat, and he could scarcely bear the pain of it.  Yes, yes, yes!  Other refuge had he none!

Suddenly a new thought smote him, and he felt like a man roused from a deep sleep.  Glory!  He had been thinking only of his own soul and his soul’s salvation, and had forgotten his duty to others.  He had his duty to Glory above all others and lie could not and must not escape from it.  He must take his place by her side, and if that included the abandonment of his ideals, so be it!  He had been proved unworthy of a life of holiness; he must lower his flag, he must be content to live the life of a man.

But he could not think what he ought to do next, and when night fell he was still wandering aimlessly through the streets.  He had turned eastward again, and even in the tumultuous thoroughfares of the Mile End he could not help seeing that something unusual was going on.  People in drink were rolling about the streets, and shouting and singing as if it had been a public holiday.  “Glad you ain’t in kingdom-come to-night, old gal!” “Well, what do you think?”

At twelve o’clock he went into a lodging-house and asked if he could have a bed.  The keeper was in the kitchen talking with two men who were cooking a herring for their supper, and he looked up at his visitor in astonishment.

“Can I sleep you, sir?  We ain’t got no accommodation for gentlemen ” and then he stopped, looked more attentively, and said: 

“Are you from the Settlement, sir?”

John Storm made some inarticulate reply.

“Thort ye might be, sir.  We often ’as ’em ’ere sempling the cawfee, but blessed if they ever wanted to semple a bed afore.  Still, if you down’t mind ”

“It will be better than I deserve, my man.  Can you give me a cup of coffee before I turn in?”

“With pleasure, sir!  Set down, sir!  Myke yourself at ’ome.  Me and my friends were just talkin’ of a gentleman of your cloth, sirthe pore feller as ’as got into trouble acrost Westminster way.”

“Oh, you were talking of him, were you?”

“Sem ’ere says the biziness pize.”

“It must py, or people wouldn’t do it,” said the man leaning over the fire.

“Down’t you believe it.  That little gime down’t py.  Cause why?  Look at the bloomin’ stoo the feller’s in now.  If they ketch ’im ’e’ll get six months ’ard.”

“Then what’s ‘e been doin’ it for?  I down’t see nothink in it if it down’t py.”.

“Cause he believes in it, thet’s why!What do you think, sir?”

“I think the man has come by a just fall,” said John.  “God will never use him again, having brought him to shame.”

“Must hev been a wrong un certingly,” said the man over the fire.

When John Storm awoke in his cubicle next morning he saw his way clearer.  He would deliver himself up to the warrant that was issued for his arrest, and go through with it to the end.  Then he would return to Glory a free man, and God would find work for him even yet, after this awful lesson to his presumption and pride.

“That feller as was took ter the awspital is dead,” said somebody in the kitchen, and then there was the crinkling of a newspaper.

“Is ’e?” said another.  “The best thing the Father can do is to ’ook it then.  Cause why?  Whether ’e done it or not they’ll fix it on ter ’im, doncher know!”

John’s head spun round and round.  He remembered what Brother Andrew had said of Charlie Wilkes, and his heart, so warm a moment ago, felt benumbed as by frost.  Nevertheless, at nine o’clock he was going westward in the Underground.  People looked at him when he stepped into the carriage.  He thought everybody knew him, and that the world was only playing with him as a cat plays with a mouse.  The compartment was full of young clerks smoking pipes and reading newspapers.

“Most extraordinary!” said one of them.  “The fellow has disappeared as absolutely as if he had been carried up into a cloud.”

“Why extraordinary?” said another in a thin voice.  This one was not smoking, and he had the startled eyes of the enthusiast.  “Elijah was taken up to heaven in the body, wasn’t he?  And why not Father Storm?”

“What?” cried the first, taking his pipe out of his mouth.

“Some people believe that,” said the thin voice timidly.

“Oh, you want a dose of medicine, you do,” said the first speaker, shaking out his ash and looking round with a knowing air.  The young men got out in the City; John went on to Westminster Bridge.

It was terrible.  Why could he not take advantage of the popular superstition and disappear indeed, taking Glory with him!  But no, no, no!

Through all the torment of his soul his religion had remained the same, and now it rose up before him like a pillar of cloud and fire.  He would do as he had intended, whatever the consequences, and if he was charged with crimes he had not committed, if he was accused of the offences of his followers, he would make no defence; if need be he would allow himself to be convicted, and being innocent in this instance God would accept his punishment as an atonement for his other sins!  Glorious sacrifice!  He would make it!  He would make it!  And Glory herself would be proud of it some day.

With the glow of this resolution upon him he turned into Scotland Yard and stepped boldly up to the office.  The officer in charge received him with a deferential bow, but went on talking in a low voice to an inspector of police who was also standing at the other side of a counter.

“Strange?” he was saying.  “I thought he was seen getting into the train at Euston.”

“Don’t know that he wasn’t either, in spite of all he says.”

“Thinking of the dog.”

“Well, the dog, too,” said the inspector, and then seeing John, “Hello!  Who’s here?”

The officer stepped up to the counter.  “What can I do for you, sir?” he asked.

John knew that the supreme moment had come, and he felt proud of himself that his resolution did not waver.  Lifting his head, he said in a low and rapid voice, “I understand that you have a warrant for the arrest of Father Storm.”

“We had, sir,” the officer answered.

John looked embarrassed.  “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that Father Storm is now in custody.”

John stared at the man with a feeling of stupefaction.  “In custody!  Did you say in custody?”

“Precisely!  He has just given himself up.”

John answered impetuously, “But that is impossible.”

“Why impossible, sir?  Are you interested in this case?”

A certain quivering moved John’s mouth.  “I am Father Storm himself.”

The officer was silent for a moment.  Then he turned to the inspector with a pitying smile.  “Another of them,” he said significantly.  The psychology of criminals had been an interesting study to this official.

“Wait a minute,” said the inspector, and he went hurriedly through an inner doorway.  The officer asked John some questions about his movements since yesterday.  John answered vaguely in broken and rather bewildering sentences.  Then the inspector returned.

“You are Father Storm?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know of anybody who might wish to personate you?”

“God forbid that any one should do that!”

“Still, there is some one here who says ”

“Let me see him.”

“Come this way quietly,” said the inspector, and John followed him to the inner room.  His pride was all gone, his head was hanging low, and he was a prey to extraordinary agitation.

A man in a black cassock was sitting at a table making a statement to another officer with an open book before him.  His back was to the door, but John knew him in a moment.  It was Brother Andrew.

“Then why have you given yourself up?” the officer asked, and Brother Andrew began a rambling and foolish explanation.  He had seen it stated in an evening paper that the Father had been traced to the train at Euston, and he thought it a pitya pity that the policethat the police should waste their time

“Take care!” said the officer.  “You are in a position that should make you careful of what you say.”

And then the inspector stepped forward, leaving John by the door.

“You still say you are Father Storm?”

“Of course I do,” said Brother Andrew indignantly.  “If I was anybody else, do you think I should come here and give myself up ”

“Then who is this standing behind you?”

Brother Andrew turned and saw John with a start of surprise and a cry of terror.  He seemed hardly able to believe in the reality of what was before him, and his restless eyeballs rolled fearfully.  John tried to speak, but he could only utter a few inarticulate sounds.

“Well?” said the inspector.  And while John stood with head down and heaving breast, Brother Andrew began to laugh hysterically and to say: 

“Don’t you know who this is?  This is my lay brother!  I brought him out of the Brotherhood six months ago, and he has been with me ever since.”

The officers looked at each other.  “Good heavens!” cried Brother Andrew in an imperious voice, “don’t you believe me?  You mustn’t touch this man.  He has done nothingnothing at all.  He is as tender as a woman and wouldn’t hurt a fly.  What’s he doing here?”

The officers also were dropping their heads, and the heartrending voice went on:  “Have you arrested him?  You’ll do very wrong if you arrest But perhaps he has given himself up!  That would be just like him.  He is devoted to me and would tell you any falsehood if he thought it would But you must send him away.  Tell him to go back to his old motherthat’s the proper place for him.  Good God! do you think I’m telling you lies?”

There was silence for a moment.  “My poor lad, hush, hush!” said John in a tone full of tenderness and authority.  Then he turned to the inspector with a pitiful smile of triumph.  “Are you satisfied?” he asked.

“Quite satisfied, Father,” the officer answered in a broken voice, and then Brother Andrew began to cry.