Richard Marsh (12 October 1857 – 9 August 1915) was the pseudonym of the English author born Richard Bernard Heldmann. A best-selling and prolific author of the late 19th century and the Edwardian period, Marsh is best known now for his supernatural thriller novel The Beetle, which was published the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), and was initially even more popular. The Beetle remained in print until 1960. Marsh produced nearly 80 volumes of fiction and numerous short stories, in genres including horror, crime, romance and humour. Many of these have been republished recently, beginning with The Beetle in 2004. Marsh's grandson Robert Aickman was a notable writer of short "strange stories".
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The Interrupted Dinner
The Woman and the Coats
The Words of the Preacher
The Children’s Mother
The Only One that was Left
The First Disciple
The Second Disciple
A Triumphal Entry
The Words of the Wise
In the Morning
The Miracle of Healing
The Young Man
The Hunt and the Home
They that Would Ask with A Threat
A Seminary Priest
And the Child
He stood at the corner of the table with his hat and overcoat on, just as he had rushed into the room.
‘Christ has come again!’
The servants were serving the entrees. Their breeding failed them. They stopped to stare at Chisholm. The guests stared too, those at the end leaning over the board to see him better. He looked like a man newly startled out of dreaming, blinking at the lights and glittering table array. His hat was a little on one side of his head. He was hot and short of breath, as if he had been running. They regarded him as a little bewildered, while he, on his part, looked back at them as if they were the creatures of a dream.
‘Christ has come again!’
He repeated the words in a curious, tremulous, sobbing voice, which was wholly unlike his own.
Conversation had languished. Just before his entrance there had been one of those prolonged pauses which, to an ambitious hostess, are as a sound of doom. The dinner bade fair to be a failure. If people will not talk, to offer them to eat is vain. Criticism takes the place of appetite. Amplett looked, for him, bad-tempered. He was leaning back in his chair, smiling wryly at the wineglass which he was twiddling between his fingers. His wife, on the contrary, sat very upright—with her an ominous sign. She looked straight in front of her, with a tender softness in her glance which only to those who did not know her suggested paradise. Over the whole table there was an air of vague depression, an irresistible tendency to be bored.
Chisholm’s unceremonious entry created a diversion. It filliped the atmosphere. Amplett’s bad temper vanished on the instant.
‘Hollo, Hugh! thought you weren’t coming. Sit down, man; in your coat and hat if you like, only do sit down!’
Chisholm eyed him as if not quite certain that it was he who was being spoken to, or who the speaker was. There was that about his bearing which seemed to have a singular effect upon his host. Amplett, leaning farther over the table, called to him in short, sharp tones:
‘Why do you stand and look like that? What’s the matter?’
‘Christ has come again!’
As he repeated the words for the third time, there was in his voice a note of exultation which was in odd dissonance with what was generally believed to be his character. The self-possession for which he was renowned seemed to have wholly deserted him. Something seemed to have shaken his nature to its depths; he who was used to declare that life could offer nothing which was of interest to him.
People glanced at each other, and at the strange-looking man at the end of the table. Was he mad or drunk? As if in answer to their glances he stretched out his hands a little in front of him, saying:
‘It is true! It is true! Christ has come again! I have come from His presence here to you!’
Mrs. Amplett’s voice rang out sharply:
‘Hugh, what is the matter with you? Are you insane?’
‘I was insane. Now I am wise. I know, for I have seen. I have been among the first to see.’
There was something in his manner which affected them strangely. A wildness, an exultation, an intensity! If it had not been so entirely out of keeping with the man’s everyday disposition it might not have seemed so curious. But those who knew him best were moved most. They were aware that his nerves were not easily affected; that something extraordinary must have occurred to have produced this bearing. Clement Fordham rose from his chair and went to him.
‘Come, Hugh, tell me what’s wrong outside.’
He made as if to slip his arm through Chisholm’s, who would have none of it. He held Fordham off with hand extended.
‘Thank you, Fordham, but for the present I’ll stay here. I am not mad, nor have I been drinking. I’m as sober and as sane as you.’
A voice came down the table, Bertie Vaughan’s. In it there was a ring of laughter:
‘Tell us, Chisholm, what you’ve seen.’
‘I will tell you.’
Chisholm removed his hat, as if suddenly remembering that he had it on. He rested the brim against the edge of the table, looking down the two rows of faces towards Amplett at the end. Mrs. Amplett interposed:
‘Hadn’t you better sit down, Hugh, and have something to eat? The entrees are getting cold. Or you might tell your story after we’ve finished dinner. Hunger magnifies; wonders grow less when one has dined.’
There was a chorus of dissentient voices.
‘No, no, Mrs. Amplett. Let him tell his story now.’
‘I will tell it to you now.’
The hostess gave way. Chisholm told his tale. He riveted his auditors’ attention. The servants listened openly.
‘I walked here. As you know, the night is fine, and I thought the stroll would do me good. As I was passing through Bryanston Square a man came round the corner on a bicycle. The road has recently been watered, and is still wet and greasy. His tyre must have skidded, or something, because he entirely lost control of his machine, and went dashing into the hydrant which stands by the kerb. He was moving pretty fast, and as it came into contact with the hydrant his machine was splintered, and he was pitched over the handle-bar heavily on to his head. He was some fifteen or twenty yards from where I was. I went to him as rapidly as I could, but by the time I reached him he was already dead.’
The word came in a sort of chorus from half a dozen throats.
‘Dead,’ repeated Chisholm.
‘Are you sure that he was dead?’
The question came from Amplett.
‘Certain. He was a very unpleasant sight. He must have fallen with more violence even than I had supposed. His skull was shattered. He must have come down on it on the hard road, and then twisted over on to his back. He was a big, heavy man, and the wrench which he had given himself in rolling over had broken his neck. I was so astonished to find him dead, and at the spectacle which he presented, that for a second or two I was at a loss as to what steps I ought to take. No other person was in the square, and, so far as I could judge, the accident had not been witnessed from either of the windows. While I hesitated, on a sudden I was conscious that someone was at my side.’
He stopped as if to take breath. There came a rain of questions.
‘Someone? What do you mean by someone?’
‘I will try and tell you exactly what I saw. It is not easy. I am yet too near—fresh from the Presence.’
He clasped his hands a little more tightly on the brim of his hat, then closed his eyes for a second or two, opening them to look straight down the table, as if endeavouring to bring well within the focus of his vision something which was there.
‘I was looking down at the dead man as he lay there in an ugly heap, conscious that I was due for dinner, and wondering what steps I ought to take. I felt no interest in him—none whatever; neither his living nor his dying was anything to me. My chief feeling was one of annoyance that he should have chosen that moment to fall dead right in my path; it was an unwarrantable intrusion of his affairs into mine. As I stood, I knew that someone was on his other side, looking down at him with me. And I was afraid—yes, I was afraid.’
The speaker had turned pale—the pallor of fear had come upon the cheeks of the man whose imperturbable courage had been proved a hundred times. His voice sank lower.
‘For some moments I continued with eyes cast down; I did not dare to look up. At last, when my pulse grew a little calmer, I ventured to raise my eyes. On the other side of the dead bicyclist was one who was in the figure of a man. I knew that it was Christ.’
He spoke with an accent of intense conviction, the like of which his hearers had never heard from the lips of anyone before. It was as though Chisholm spoke with the faith which can move mountains. Those who listened were perforce dumb.
‘His glance met mine. I knew myself to be the thing I was. I was ashamed. He pointed to the body lying in the roadway, saying: “Your brother sleeps?” I could not answer. Seeing that I was silent, He spoke again: “Are you not of one spirit and of one flesh? I come to wake your brother out of slumber.” He inclined His hand towards the dead man, saying: “Arise, you who sleep.” Immediately he that was dead stood up. He seemed bewildered, and exclaimed as in a fit of passion: “That’s a nice spill. Curse the infernal slippery road!” Then he turned and saw Who was standing at his side. As he did so, he burst into a storm of tears, crying like a child; and when he cried, He that had been there was not. The bicyclist and I were alone together.’
A pause followed Chisholm’s words.
‘And then what happened?’
The query came from Mrs. Amplett.
‘Nothing happened. I hurried off as fast as I could, for I was still afraid, and left the bicyclist sobbing in the roadway.’
There was another interval of silence, until Gregory Hawkes, putting his eyeglass in its place, fixedly regarded Chisholm.
‘Are we to accept this as a sober narrative of actual fact, or—where’s the joke?’
‘I have told you the truth. Christ has come again!’
‘Christ in Bryanston Square!’
Mr. Hawkes’s tone was satirical.
‘Yes, Christ in Bryanston Square. Why not in Bryanston Square if on the hill of Calvary? Is not this His own city?’
‘His own city!’
Again there was the satiric touch.
One of the servants, dropping a dish, began to excuse himself.
‘Pardon me, sir, but I’m a Seventh–Day Christian, and I’ve been looking for the Second Coming these three years now, and more. Hearing from Mr. Chisholm that it’s come at last has made me feel a little nervous.’
Mrs. Amplett turned to the butler.
‘Goss, let the servants leave the room.’
They went, as if they bore their tails between their legs, some with the entrée dishes still in their hands.
‘I wish,’ murmured Bertie Vaughan,’ that this little incident could have been conveniently postponed till after we had dined.’
Arthur Warton, of St. Ethelburga’s, showed signs of disapprobation.
‘I believe that I am as broad-minded a priest as you will easily find, but there are seasons at which certain topics should not be touched upon. Without wishing in any way to thrust forward my clerical office, I would point out to Mr. Chisholm that this assuredly is one.’
‘Is there then a season at which Christ should not come again?’
‘Or in which He should not restore the dead to life?’
‘I should not wish to disturb the harmony of the gathering, Mr. Amplett, but I am afraid the—eh—circumstances are not—eh—fortuitous. I cannot sit here and allow my sacred office to be mocked.’
‘Mocked! Is it to mock your sacred office to spread abroad the news that He has come again? I am fresh from His presence, and tell you so—you that claim to be His priest.’
Fordham, who had been standing by him all the time, came a little closer.
‘Come, Hugh, let’s get out of this, you and I, and talk over things quietly together.’
Again Chisholm kept him from him with his outstretched hand.
‘In your tone, Fordham, more even than in your words, there is suggestion. Of what? that I am mad? You have known me all my life. Have I struck you as being of the stuff which makes for madness? As a victim of hysteria? As a subject of hallucinations? As a liar? I am as sane as you, as clear-headed, as matter-of-fact, as truthful. I tell you, in very truth and very deed, that to-night I have seen Christ hard by here in the square.’
‘My dear fellow, these people have come here to dine.’
‘Is, then, dinner more than Christ?’
Smiling his easy, tolerant smile, Fordham touched Chisholm lightly with his fingers on the arm.
‘My very dear old chap, this sort of thing is so awfully unlike you, don’t you know?’
‘You, also, will be changed when you have seen Christ. Fordham, I have seen Christ!’
The intensity of his utterance seemed to strike his hearers a blow. The women shivered, turning pale—even those who were painted. Mr. Warton leaned across the table towards Mrs. Amplett.
‘I really think that you ladies had better retire. Our friend seems to be in a curious mood.’
The hostess nodded. She rose from her seat, looking very queerly at Mr. Chisholm, for whom her penchant is well known. The other women followed her example. The rustling concourse fluttered from the room, the Incumbent of St. Ethelburga holding the door open to let them pass, and himself bringing up the rear. The laymen were left alone together, Chisholm and Fordham standing at the head of the table with, on their faces, such very different expressions.
The host seemed snappish.
‘You see what you’ve done? I offer you my congratulations, Mr. Chisholm. I don’t know if you call the sort of thing with which you have been favouring us good form.’
‘Is good form more than Christ?’
Amplett made an impatient sound with his lips. He stood up.
‘Upon my word of honour, Mr. Chisholm, you must be either drunk or mad. I trust, for your own sake, that you are merely mad. Come, gentlemen, let’s join the ladies.’
The men quitted the room in a body. Only Clement Fordham stayed with his friend. Chisholm watched them as they went. Then, when the last had gone and the door was closed, he turned to his companion.
‘Yet it is the truth that this night I have seen Christ!’
The other laughed.
‘Then, in that case, let’s hope that you won’t see much more of Him—no impiety intended, I assure you. Now let you and me take our two selves away.’
He slipped his arm through his friend’s. As they were about to move, the door opened and a servant entered. It was the man who had dropped the dish. He approached Chisholm with stuttering tongue.
‘Pardon me, sir, if I seem to take a liberty, but might I ask if the Second Coming has really come at last? As a Seventh–Day Christian it’s a subject in which I take an interest, and the fact is that there’s a difference of opinion between my wife and me as to whether it’s to be this year or next.’
The man bore ignorance on his countenance written large, and worse. Hugh Chisholm turned from him with repugnance.
‘He’s your brother,’ whispered Fordham in his ear, as they moved towards the door.
The expression of Hugh Chisholm’s face was stern.
Mr. Davis looked about him with bloodshot eyes. His battered bowler was perched rakishly on the back of his head, and his hands were thrust deep into his trousers pockets. He did not seem to find the aspect of the room enlivening. His wife, standing at a small oblong deal table, was making a parcel of two black coats to which she had just been giving the finishing stitches. The man, the woman, the table, and the coats, practically represented the entire contents of the apartment.
The fact appeared to cause Mr. Davis no slight dissatisfaction. His bearing, his looks, his voice, all betrayed it.
‘I want some money,’ he observed.
‘Then you’ll have to want,’ returned his wife.
‘Ain’t you got none?’
‘No, nor shan’t have, not till I’ve took these two coats in.’
‘Then what’ll it be?’
‘You know very well what it’ll be—three-and-six—one-and-nine apiece—if there ain’t no fines.’
‘And this is what they call the land of liberty, the ‘ome of the free, where people slave and slave—for one-and-nine.’
Mr. Davis seemed conscious that the conclusion of his sentence was slightly impotent, and spat on the floor as if to signify his regret.
“Tain’t much slaving you do, anyhow.’
‘No, nor it ain’t much I’m likely to do; I’m no servile wretch; I’m free-born.’
‘Prefers to make your living off me, you do.’
‘Well, and why not? Ain’t woman the inferior animal? Didn’t Nature mean it to be her pride to minister to man? Ain’t it only the false veneer of a rotten civilization what’s upset all that? If I gives my talents for the good of the species, as I do do, as is well known I do do, ain’t it only right that you should give me something in return, if it’s only a crust and water? Ain’t that law and justice—natural law, mind you, and natural justice?’
‘I don’t know nothing about law, natural or otherwise, but I do know it ain’t justice.’
Mr. Davis looked at his wife, more in sorrow than in anger. He was silent for some seconds, as if meditating on the peculiar baseness of human nature. When he spoke there was a whine in his raucous voice, which was, perhaps, meant to denote his consciousness of how much he stood in need of sympathy.
‘I’m sorry, Matilda, to hear you talk to me like that, because it forces me to do something what I shouldn’t otherwise have done. Give me them coats.’
She had just finished packing up the coats in the linen wrapper, and was pinning up one end. Snatching up the parcel, she clasped it to her bosom as if it had been some precious thing.
‘No, Tommy, not the coats!’
‘Matilda, once more I ask you to give me them coats.’
‘What do you want them for?’
‘Once more, Matilda, I ask you to give me them coats.’
‘No, Tommy, that I won’t—never! not if you was to kill me! You know what happened the last time, and all I had to go through; and you promised you’d never do it again, and you shan’t, not while I can help it—no, that you shan’t!’
Clasping the parcel tightly to her, she drew back towards a corner of the room, like some wild creature standing at bay. Mr. Davis, advancing towards the table, leaned on it, addressing her as if he desired to impress her with the fact that he was endeavouring not to allow his feelings to get the better of his judgment.
‘Listen to me, Matilda. I’m soft and tender, as well you know, and should therefore regret having to start knocking you about; but want is want, and I want ‘arf a sovereign this day, and have it I must.’
‘What do you want it for?’
Mr. Davis brought his clenched fist sharply down upon the table—possibly by way of a hint.
‘Never you mind what I want it for. I do want it, and that’s enough for you. You trouble yourself with your own affairs, and don’t poke your nose into mine, my girl; you’ll find it safest.’
‘I’ll try to get it for you, Tommy.’
Mr. Davis was scornful.
‘Oh, you will, will you! How are you going to set about getting ‘arf a sovereign? Perhaps you’ll be so good as to let me know. Because if you can lay hands on ‘arf a sovereign whenever one’s wanted, it’s a trick worth knowing. You’re such a clever one at getting ‘old of the pieces, you are, and always have been.’
The man’s irony seemed to cause the woman to wince. She drew a little farther back towards her corner.
‘I don’t rightly know how I shall get hold of it, not just now, I don’t; but I daresay I shall manage somehow.’
‘Oh, you do, do you? Shall I tell you how you’ll manage? You listen to me. You’ll go to them there slave-drivers with them two coats, and they’ll keep you waiting for two mortal hours or more. Then they’ll dock sixpence for fines—you’re always getting fined; you ‘ardly ever take anything in without you’re fined; you’re a slovenly workwoman, that’s what you are, my lass, and that’s the truth!—you’ll come away with three bob, and spend ‘arf a crown on rent, or some such silly nonsense; and then when it comes to me, you’ll start snivelling, and act the crybaby, and I shall have to treat you to a kicking, and find myself further off my ‘arf sovereign than ever I was. I don’t want no more of your nonsense. Give me them two coats!’
‘You’ll pawn ’em if I do.’
‘Of course I’ll pawn ’em. What do you suppose I’m going to do with them—eat ’em, or give them to the Queen?’
‘You’ll get me into trouble again! They’re due in today. You know what happened last time. If they lock me up again, I’ll be sent away.’
‘Then be sent away, and be ‘anged to you for a nasty, mean, snivelling cat! Why don’t you earn enough to keep your ‘usband like a gentleman? If you don’t, it’s your fault, isn’t it? Give me them two coats!’
‘No, Tommy, I won’t!’
He went closer to her.
‘For the last time; will you give me them two coats?’
She hugged the parcel closer, and she closed her eyes, so that she should not see him strike her. He hit her once, twice, thrice, choosing his mark with care and discretion. Under the first two blows she reeled; the last sent her in a heap to the floor. When she was down he kicked her in a business-like, methodical fashion, then picked up the parcel which had fallen from her grasp.
‘You’ve brought it on yourself, as you very well know. It’s the kind of thing I don’t care to have to do. I’m not like some, what’s always spoiling to knock their wives about; but when I do have to do it, there’s no one does it more thorough, I will say that.’
He left her lying in a heap on the boards. On his way to the pawnbroker’s he encountered a friend, Joe Cooke. Mr. Cooke stopped and hailed him.
‘What yer, Tommy! Are you coming along with us to-night on that there little razzle?’
‘Of course I am. Didn’t I say I was? And when I say I’m coming, don’t I always come?’
‘All right, old coxybird! Keep your ‘air on! No one said you didn’t. Got the rhino?’
‘I have. Leastways, I soon shall have, when I’ve turned this little lot into coin of the realm.’
He pointed to the bundle which he bore beneath his arm. Mr. Cooke grinned.
‘What yer got there?’
‘I’ve got a couple of coats what my wife’s been wearing out her eyes on for a set of slave-driving sweaters. Three-and-six they was to pay her for them. I rather reckon that I’ll get more than three-and-six for them, unless I’m wrong. And when I have melted ’em, Joe, I don’t mind if I do you a wet.’
Joe did not mind, either. The two fell in side by side. Mr. Cooke drew his hand across his mouth.
‘Ever since my old woman died I’ve felt I ought to have another—a good one, mind you. There’s nothing like having someone to whom you can turn for a bob or so.’
‘It’s more than a bob or so I get out of my old woman, you may take my word. If she don’t keep me like a gentleman, she hears of it.’
Mr. Cooke regarded his friend with genuine admiration.
‘Ah! but we’re not all so fly as you, Tommy, nor yet so lucky.’
‘Perhaps not—not, mind you, that that’s owing to any fault of yours. It’s as we’re made.’
Mr. Davis, with the bundle under his arm, bore himself with an air of modest pride, as one who appreciated his natural advantages.
They reached the pawnbroker’s. The entrance to the pledge department was in a little alley leading off the main street. As Mr. Davis stood at the mouth of this alley to say a parting word to his friend as a prelude to the important business of the pledging, someone touched him on the arm.
A voice accosted him.
‘What is it that you would do?’
Mr. Davis spun round like a teetotum. He stared at the Stranger.
‘Hollo, matey! Who are you?’
‘I am He that you know not of.’
Mr. Davis drew a little back, as if a trifle disconcerted. His voice was huskier than even it was wont to be.
‘What’s the little game?’
‘I bid you tell me what is this thing that you would do?’
Mr. Davis seemed to find in the words, which were quietly uttered, a compelling influence which made him curiously frank.
‘I am going to pawn these here two coats which my wife’s been making.’
‘Is it well?’
Mr. Davis slunk farther from the Stranger. ‘What’s it got to do with you?’
‘Is it well?’
There was a sorrowful intonation in the repetition of the inquiry, blended with a singularly penetrant sternness. Mr. Davis cowered as if he had been struck a blow. He turned to his friend.
‘Say, Joe, who is this bloke?’
The Stranger spoke to Mr. Cooke.
‘Look on Me, and you shall know.’
Mr. Cooke looked—and knew. He began to tremble as if he would have fallen to the ground. Mr. Davis, noting his friend’s condition, became uneasy.
‘Say, Joe, what’s the matter with you? What’s he done to you, Joe?’
Mr. Cooke was silent. The Stranger answered:
‘Would that that which has been done to him could be done to you, and to all this city! But you are of those that cannot know, for in them is no knowledge. Yet return to your wife, and make your peace with her, lest worse befall.’
Mr. Davis began to slink out of the alley, with furtive air and face carefully averted from the Stranger. As he reached the pavement, a big man, with a scarlet handkerchief twisted round his neck, caught him by the shoulder. The big man’s speech was flavoured with adjectives.
‘Why, Tommy! what’s up with you? You look as if you was just a-going to see Jack Ketch.’
Then came the flood of adjectives to give the sentence balance. Mr. Davis tried to wriggle from his questioner’s too strenuous grip.
‘Let me go, Pug—let me go!’
‘What for? What’s wrong? Who’s been doing something to yer?’
Mr. Davis made a movement of his head towards the Stranger. He spoke in a husky whisper.
‘That bloke—over there.’
The big man dragged the unwilling Mr. Davis forward.
‘What’s my friend been doing to you, and what have you been doing to him?’
There was the usual adjectival torrent. The Stranger replied to the inquiry with another.
‘Why are you so unclean of mouth? Is it because you are unclean of heart, or because you do not know what the things are which you utter?’
The retorted question seemed to take the big man aback. His manner became still more blusterous:
‘I don’t want none of your lip, and I won’t have any, and you can take that from me! I don’t know what kind of a Gospel-pitcher you are; but if you think because preaching’s your lay that you can come it over me, I’ll just show you can’t by knocking the head right off yer.’
‘What big things the little say!’
The retort seemed to goad Mr. Davis’s friend to a state of considerable excitement.
‘Little, am I? I’ll show you! I’ll learn you! I’ll give you a lesson free gratis, and for nothing now, right straight off.’ He began to tear off his cap and coat. ‘Here, some of you chaps, catch hold while I’m a-showing him!’ As he turned up his shirtsleeves, he addressed the crowd which had gathered: ‘These blokes come to us, and because we’re poor they think they can treat us as if we was dirt, and come the pa and ma game over us as if we was a lot of kids. I’ve had enough of it—in fact, I’ve had too much. For the future I mean to set about every one of them as tries to come it over me. Now, then, my bloke, put up your dooks or eat your words. Don’t think you’re going to get out of it by standing still, because if you don’t beg pardon for what you said to me just now I’ll——’
The man, who was by profession a pugilist, advanced towards the Stranger in professional style. The Stranger raised His right hand.
‘Stay! and let your arm be withered. Better lose your arm than all that you have.’
Before the eyes of those who were standing by the man’s arm began to dwindle till there was nothing protruding from the shirtsleeve which he had rolled up to his shoulder but a withered stump. The man stood as if rooted to the ground, the expression of his countenance so changed as to amount to complete transfiguration. The crowd was still until a voice inquired of the Stranger:
‘Who are you?’
The Stranger pointed to the man whose arm was withered.
‘Can you not see? The world still looks for a sign.’
There were murmurs among the people.
‘He’s a conjurer!’
‘The bloke’s a mesmerist, that’s what he is!’
‘He’s one of those hanky-panky coves!’
‘I am none of these things. I come from a city not built of hands to this city of man’s glory and his shame to bring to you a message—no new thing, but that old one which the world has forgotten.’
‘What’s the message, Guv’nor?’
‘Those who see Me and know Me will know what is My message; those who know Me not, neither will they know My message.’
Mr. Cooke fell on his knees on the pavement.
‘Oh, Guv’nor, what shall I do?’
‘Cease to weep; there are more than enough tears already.’
‘I’m only a silly fool, Guv’nor; tell me what I ought to do.’
‘Do well; be clean; judge no one.’
A woman came hurrying through the crowd. It was Mrs. Davis. At sight of her husband she burst into exclamations:
‘Oh, Tommy, have you pawned them?’
‘No, Matilda, I haven’t, and I’m not going to, neither.’
She threw her arms about her husband’s neck and kissed him.
‘That is good hearing,’ said the Stranger.
The people’s attention had been diverted by Mrs. Davis’s appearance. When they turned again to look for the Stranger He was gone.
‘They say that the Jews do not look forward to the rebuilding of their Holy City of Jerusalem, to their return to the Promised Land. They say that we Christians do not look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. As to the indictment against the Chosen People, we will not pronounce: we are not Jews. But as to the charge against us Christians, there we are on firmer ground. We can speak, and we must. My answer is, It’s a lie. We do look forward to His Second Coming. We watch and wait for it. It is the subject of our constant prayers. We have His promise, in words which cannot fail. The whole fabric of our faith is built upon our assurance of His return. If the delay seems long, it is because, in His sight, a thousand years are as a day. Who are we to time His movements, and fix the hour of His coming so that it may fall in with our convenience? We know that He will come, in His own time, in His own way. He will forgive us if we strain our eyes eastward, watching for the first rays of the dawn to gild the mountains and the plains, and herald the glory of His advent. But beyond that His will, not ours, be done. We know, O Lord Christ, Thou wilt return when it seems well in Thy sight.’
The Rev. Philip Evans was a short, somewhat sturdily built man, who was a little too heavy for his height. His dress was, to all intents and purposes, that of a layman, though something about the colour and cut of the several garments suggested the dissenting minister of a certain modern type. He was a hairy man; his brown hair, beard, and whiskers were just beginning to be touched with gray. He wore spectacles, big round glasses, set in bright steel frames. He had a trick of snatching at them with his left hand every now and then, as if to twitch them straight upon his nose. He was not an orator, but was something of a rhetorician. He had the gift of the gab, and the present-day knack of treating what are supposed to be sacred subjects in secular fashion—of ‘bringing them down,’ as he himself described it, ‘to the intelligence’ of his hearers, apparently unconscious of the truth that what he supposed to be their standard of intelligence was, in fact, his own.
There was about his manner, methods, gestures, voice, a species of nervous force, the product of restlessness rather than vitality, which attracted the sort of persons to whom he specially appealed, when they had nothing better to do, and held them, if not so firmly as the music-hall and theatrical performances which they preferentially patronised, still, with a sufficient share of interest. The band and the choir had something to do with the success which attended his labours. But, after all, these were merely side-shows. Indubitably the chief attraction was the man himself, and the air of brightness and ‘go’ which his personality lent to the proceedings. One never knew what would be the next thing he would say or do.
That Sunday evening the great hall was thronged. It nearly always was. In the great thoroughfare without the people passed continually to and fro, a motley crowd, mostly in pursuit of mischief. All sorts and conditions of persons, as they neared the entrance, would come in, if only to rest for a few minutes, and listen by the way, and look on. There was a constant coming and going. Philip Evans was one of the sights of town, not the least of its notorieties; and those very individuals against whom his diatribes were principally directed found, upon occasion, a moderate degree of entertainment in listening to examples of his comminatory thunders.
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