Read CHAPTER XX of The Devil's Garden, free online book, by W. B. Maxwell, on

When the time came for Dale to be baptized Mr. Osborn offered to perform the ceremony at dawn in the stream that runs through Hadleigh Wood; but Dale refused the offer. He said he would much prefer to have it done within four walls, in the evening, at what he supposed to be the usual place, the chapel. He added an expression of the hope that there would not be many people there.

“There would only be a few of ourselves, true-hearted ones, in either event,” said Mr. Osborn; “and out of doors is not unusual. I did it that way for George Hitching a year ago. We took him down to Kib Pool, and waited till the sun rose. Then in he went.”

And without urging Dale to change his mind, Mr. Osborn in a few words touched off the beauty of this baptismal scene. He described how the dew was like diamonds on the grass, and they stood all among the shadows, and the rising sun seemed to touch George Hitching’s head before it touched anything else. “Then we and the birds began to sing together. I promise you it was uncommonly pretty, as well as very moving.”

Nevertheless, Dale remained quite firm. That idea of Hadleigh Wood at dawn held no attraction for him.

So far he had said nothing of all this to Mavis, but now one night after supper he broached the subject. He had laid down his knife and fork, and she had brought him the tobacco jar. He sat filling his pipe slowly, and then instead of lighting it he put it meditatively aside.

“Mavis, something has happened which will probably surprise you. I have found religion again.”

“Oh, Will, I am glad.”

Mavis was delighted; but when he told her that he was about to join the Baptists she did not feel so well pleased. She scarcely knew what to say. Why should he want to take the creed of dissenters, of quite common people? It was all very well for farm-laborers, sempstresses, and servants; but it did not seem good enough for her Will. Socially it was without doubt a retrograde step; and nowadays, when he got on capitally with the best of the gentlefolk, when they were all jolly and nice to him, it did seem a pity to go and mix himself up with a pack of ignorant underlings. The gentry, who of course all belonged to the Church of England, would not like it any better than she herself.

Moreover, that notion of total immersion was extremely repugnant to her. A grown-up person, an important person, a member of the District Council, splashing about in a tank! She asked him many questions concerning the baptism itself, and he told her all that he knew about it. He did not tell her, however, of Mr. Osborn’s proposal that the immersion should occur in the wood-stream.

“What took your fancy, Will dear, with Mr. Osborn’s teaching more than anybody else’s?”

Then he told her all that Mr. Osborn had said of the fatherly attributes of God, of the fact that men were veritably His children, and that for communion with God one must be as a child approaching a father.

“Yes, dear, I’m sure that’s true. But Mr. Norton would say just the same.”

“He never has said it, Mav. That is, I never heard him say it.”

“Perhaps in those days you didn’t note his words. I’m not arguing, dear. You must do whatever you judge right, and it will be right for me if once you’ve done it. Only I do assure you what you repeated is altogether Church of England; and I feel certain Mr. Norton must have said it times and often.”

“Then perhaps he hasn’t said it quite in the same way.”

When the evening arrived Mavis asked if she might come to the chapel, but he said “No.” Her presence would distract his thoughts.

“Very well, dear, I’ll stay here. I shall say a prayer for you. I may do that?”

“Yes, please do that.”

Throughout the ceremony, and afterward, he was very grave and dignified, plainly taking the whole matter with the most profound seriousness. He was silent and solemn throughout the rest of the evening; but he slept extraordinarily well at night. There were no dreams, no disturbances of any kind. He lay motionless, sleeping as peacefully as a little child.

Tender thoughts filled the mind of his wife as she watched him. She thought of the ugly chapel, those stupid illiterate people, the dark water, the splashing and the noise; the clumsy absurdness of the whole rite; and yet, in spite of everything, she now felt the essential beauty of the idea itself. It seemed to her most beautiful when applied to this particular case the strong brave man who in spirit and heart has made himself simple and guileless as a child, to be taken back to the Eternal Father of all children.