Chapter 15

THE HYMN HAD ENGAGED MY ATTENTION; when it was over I had time to take stock of the congregation. They were chiefly farmers - fat, very well to-do folk, who had come some of them with their wives and children from outlying farms two and three miles away; haters of popery and of anything which anyone might choose to say was popish; good, sensible fellows who detested theory of any kind, whose ideal was the maintenance of the status quo with perhaps a loving reminiscence of old war times, and a sense of wrong that the weather was not more completely under their control, who desired higher prices and cheaper wages, but otherwise were most contented when things were changing least; tolerators, if not lovers, of all that was familiar, haters of all that was unfamiliar; they would have been equally horrified at hearing the Christian religion doubted, and at seeing it practised.

`What can there be in common between Theobald and his parishioners?' said Christina to me, in the course of the evening when her husband was for a few moments absent. `Of course one must not complain, but I assure you it grieves me to see a man of Theobald's ability thrown away upon such a place as this. If we had only been at Gaysbury, where there are the A's, the B's, the C's, and the Lord D's place, as you know, quite close, I should not then have felt that we were living in such a desert; but I suppose it is for the best,' she added more cheerfully; `and then of course the Bishop will come to us whenever he is in the neighbourhood, and if we were at Gaysbury he might have gone to Lord D's.'

Perhaps I have now said enough to indicate the kind of place in which Theobald's lines were cast, and the sort of woman he had married. As for his own habits, I see him trudging through muddy lanes and over long sweeps of plover-haunted pastures to visit a dying cottager's wife. He takes her meat and wine from his own table, and that not a little only but liberally. According to his lights also, he administers what he is pleased to call spiritual consolation.

`I am afraid I'm going to Hell, Sir,' says the sick woman with a whine. `Oh, Sir, save me, save me, don't let me go there. I couldn't stand it, Sir, I should die with fear, the very thought of it drives me into a cold sweat all over.'

`Mrs Thompson,' says Theobald gravely, `you must have faith in the precious blood of your Redeemer; it is He alone who can save you.'

`But are you sure, Sir,' says she, looking wistfully at him, `that He will forgive me - for I've not been a very good woman, indeed I haven't - and if God would only say "Yes" outright with His mouth when I ask whether my sins are forgiven me -'

`But they are forgiven you, Mrs Thompson,' says Theobald with some sternness, for the same ground has been gone over a good many times already, and he has borne the unhappy woman's misgivings now for a full quarter of an hour. Then he puts a stop to the conversation by repeating prayers taken from the `Visitation of the Sick,' and overawes the poor wretch from expressing further anxiety as to her condition.

`Can't you tell me, Sir,' she exclaims piteously, as she sees that he is preparing to go away, `can't you tell me that there is no Day of Judgment, and that there is no such place as Hell? I can do without the Heaven, Sir, but I cannot do with the Hell.' Theobald is much shocked.

`Mrs Thompson,' he rejoins impressively, `let me implore you to suffer no doubt concerning these two cornerstones of our religion to cross your mind at a moment like the present. If there is one thing more certain than another it is that we shall all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and that the wicked will be consumed in a lake of everlasting fire. Doubt this, Mrs Thompson, and you are lost.'

The poor woman buries her fevered head in the coverlet in a paroxysm of fear which at last finds relief in tears.

`Mrs Thompson,' says Theobald, with his hand on the door, `compose yourself, be calm; you must please to take my word for it that at the Day of Judgment your sins will be all washed white in the blood of the

  By PanEris using Melati.

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