For the next hour and a half the Rev. George Holland had an opportunity of considering his position as a clergyman of the Church of England, and as one whose chief desire was to advance the interests of the Church. His bishop had assumed that he had been single-minded in his aims—that his sole object in writing that book and that paper had been to cure the complaint from which the old Church was suffering. His lordship had done him justice where Phyllis had done him a gross injustice. What would Phyllis have said he wondered, if she had heard that concession, made not under pressure, but voluntarily by probably the highest authority in the world, to his, George Holland’s, singleness of aim?

But it was so like a girl to jump at conclusions—to assume that he had been actuated by vanity in all that he had just done; that he was desirous only of getting people to talk about him—being regardless whether they spoke well of him or ill. He only wished that she could have heard the bishop. He felt as a man feels whose character has just been cleared in a court of law from an aspersion that has rested on it for some time. He wondered if that truly noble man whom he was privileged to call his Father in God, would have any objection to give him a testimonial to the effect that in his opinion,—the opinion of his Father in God,—there was no foundation for the accusation against him and his singleness of aim.

But the bishop knew that it was not vanity which had urged him to write what he had written. The bishop understood men.

He was right; the bishop understood men so well as to be able to produce in a few words upon the man who had just visited the palace, the impression that he believed that that man had been impelled by a strong sense of duty without a touch of vanity. He understood man so well as to cause that same visitor of his to make a resolution never again to publish anything in the same strain as the Zeit Geist article, without first consulting with the bishop. George Holland had pulled the bell at the palace gates with the hand of a Luther; but he had left the presence of the bishop with the step of a Francis of Assisi. He felt that anyone who would voluntarily give pain to so gentle a man as the bishop could only be a brute. He even felt that the bishop had shown himself to be his, George Holland’s superior in judgment and in the methods which he employed. The bishop was not an overrated man.

For a full hour in the silence and solitude of the reading room of his club he reflected upon the excellence of the bishop, and it was with a sign of regret that he rose to keep his other appointment. He would have liked to continue for another hour or two doing justice to that good man out of whose presence he had come.

Mr. Linton’s office was not quite in the City. Twenty minutes drive brought George Holland into the private room of Ella Linton’s husband.

“It is very good of you to come to me, Mr. Holland,” said Stephen. “There seems to be a general idea that a clergyman should be at the beck and call of everyone who has a whim to—what do they call it in Ireland—to make his soul? That has never been my opinion; I have never given any trouble to a clergyman since I was at school.”

“It is the privilege of a minister to be a servant,” said the Rev. George Holland.

“We were taught that at school—in connection with the Latin verb ministro,” said Mr. Linton. “Well, Mr. Holland, I am glad that you take such a view of your calling, for I am anxious that you should do me a great service.”

He paused.

George Holland bent his head. He wondered if Mr. Linton wished to intrust him with the duty of observing his wife.

“The fact is, Mr. Holland,” resumed Stephen Linton, “I have read your book and your paper in that review. The way you deal with a difficult question has filled me with admiration. You will, I need scarcely say, be outside the Church before long.”

“I cannot allow you to assume that, Mr. Linton,” said George gravely. “I should be sorry to leave the Church. I cannot see that my leaving it is the logical sequence of anything that I have yet written. My aim is, as doubtless you have perceived, to bring about such reasonable and, after all, not radical changes in the Church system as shall make her in the future a more potent agency for good than she has ever yet been, splendid though her services to humanity have been.”

“Still you will find yourself outside the walls of your Church, Mr. Holland. And you will probably adopt the course which other sons of the Church have thought necessary to pursue when the stubborn old thing refused to be reformed.”

“If you suggest that I shall become a Dissenter, Mr. Linton—”

“I suggest nothing of the sort, though you dissent already from a good many of the fundamental practices of the Church, if I may be permitted the expression. Now, I should like to make a provision for your future, Mr. Holland.”

“My dear sir, such a proposition seems to me to be a most extraordinary one. I hope you will not think me rude in saying so much. I have not suggested, Mr. Linton, as other clergymen might, that you mean an affront to me, but I don’t think that anything would be gained by prolonging—”

“Permit me to continue, and perhaps you may get a glimmer of gain. Mr. Holland, I am what people usually term a doomed man. So far as I can gather I have only about six months longer to live.”

“Merciful Heaven!”

“Perhaps it is merciful on the part of Heaven to destroy a man when he has reached the age of forty. We’ll not go into that question just now. I was warned by a doctor two years ago that I had not long to live. It appears that my heart was never really a heart—that is to say, it may have had its affections, its emotions, its passions, but pneumatically it is a failure; it was never a blood-pump. Six months ago I was examined by the greatest authority in Europe, and he pronounced my doom. Three days ago I went to the leading specialist in London, and he told me I might with care live six months longer.”

“My dear Mr. Linton, with what words can I express to you my deep feeling for you?”

George Holland spoke after a prolonged pause, during which he stared at the white-faced man before him. A smile was upon that white face. George was deeply affected. He seemed to have stepped out of a world of visions—a world that had a visionary Church, visionary preachers, visionary doctrines—all unsubstantial as words, which are but breath—into a world of realities—such realities as life and death and——Ah, there were no other realities in existence but the two: life and death.

And Mr. Linton continued smiling.

“You may gather that I wrote to you in order that you may help me to make my soul. What a capital phrase! I didn’t do that, Mr. Holland. I have never been sanguine about man and his soul. I know that it doesn’t matter much to God what a man thinks about himself or his soul. It really doesn’t matter much whether he believes or not that he has a soul: God is the Principle of Right—the Fountain of Justice, and I’m willing to trust myself to God.”

“That is true religion, Mr. Linton,” said the clergyman.

“But I agree with those people who think that the world cannot get on without a Church. Now, I am sanguine enough to believe that a Church founded on your ideas of what is orthodox would be the means of doing a great deal of good. It would do a great deal of good to my wife, to start with. She does not know that she is so soon to be a widow. Were she to know, the last months of my life would be miserable to both of us. I have noticed with some pain, or should I say amusement? perhaps that word would be the better—I have noticed, I say, that her life is one of complete aimlessness, and that, therefore, she is tempted to think too much about herself. She is also tempted to have longings for—well, for temptation. Ah, she is a woman and temptation is in the way of women. Qui parle d’amour, fait l’amour: temptation comes to the woman who thinks about being tempted. Now, I want to give her something to think about that shall lead her out of the thoughts of temptation which I suppose come naturally to a daughter of Eve—the first woman who thought about temptation and was therefore tempted. My wife is a perfectly good woman, and you will be surprised to find out when I am dead how fond of me she was—she will be the most surprised of all. But she is a woman. If she were not so much of a woman I don’t suppose I should ever have cared so much for her as I do. I cared so much for her, Mr. Holland, that I remained away from her in Paris for three months so that I might school myself to my fate, making no sign that would lead her to suspect the truth. Why should she have six months’ additional misery? I have strayed. The Church. I want to give my wife an aim in life; to make her feel that she is doing something worthy—to keep her from thinking of less worthy things. Now, I think you will agree with me that there is nothing women are really so fond of as a Church of some sort. To be devout is as much a part of a woman’s disposition as to love—the passion of devoutness sometimes takes the place of the passion of love in her nature. Now, I want to give her this idea of a Church to work out when I am dead. I want you to carry out as joint trustee with her your theories in regard to the ritual, the art, the sermon; and for this purpose I should of course provide an ample endowment—say three or four thousand a year; anything you may suggest: I shall leave a great deal of money behind me.”

“Your project startles me, Mr. Linton,” said George Holland. “It startles me as greatly as the first revelation you made to me did. They may be mistaken—the doctors; I have known cases where the highest authorities were ludicrously in error. Let us hope that.”

“Well, we may hope; I may live long enough to lay the foundation stone of the Church myself. But I am most anxious that you should give the whole matter your earnest attention.”

“I am quite dazed. Do you suggest that I should leave the Church of England?”

“By no means. That is a question which I leave entirely to your own decision. My own idea is that you would like a free hand. You will have to leave the Church sooner or later. A man with your advanced ideas cannot regulate your pace to that of an old woman. In twenty years the Church will think precisely as you think to-day. That is the way with the Church. It opposes everything in the way of an innovation. You stated the case very fairly in your paper. The Church opposes every discovery and every new thing as long as possible. It then only accepts grudgingly what all civilization has accepted cordially. Oh, yes, you’ll find it impossible to remain in the Church, Mr. Holland. ‘Crabbed age and youth,’ you know.”

“I should part from the Church with the greatest reluctance, Mr. Linton.”

“Then don’t part from it, only don’t place yourself in its power. Don’t be beholden to it for your income. Don’t go to the heads of the Church for orders. Be your own master and in plain words, run the concern on your own lines. The widow of the founder will have no power to interfere with you in the matter of such arrangements.”

“I shall have to give the matter a good deal of thought. I should naturally have to reform a good deal of the ritual.”

“Naturally. The existing ritual is only a compromise. And as for the hymns which are sung, why is it necessary for them to be doggerel before they are devotional?”

“The hymns are for the most part doggerel. We should have a first-rate choir and anthems—not necessarily taken from the Bible. Why should not Shakspere be sung in churches—Shakspere’s divine poetry instead of the nonsense-rhymes that people call hymns? Shakspere and Milton; Shelley I would not debar; Wordsworth’s sonnets. But the scheme will require a great deal of thought.”

“A great deal; that is why I leave it in your hands. You are a thinking man—you are not afraid of tradition.”

“Tradition—tradition! the ruts made in the road by the vehicles that have passed over it in years gone by!”

“The road to the Church is sadly in need of macadamizing, Mr. Holland—or, better still, asphalting. Make a bicycle road of it, and you are all right. Now, come with me to my club and have lunch. We’ll talk no more just now about this matter.”

They went out together.

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