Page images

Office and a few necessary studies, he was absorbed in two reflections. The awful spectacle of those drunken men in the morning haunted him like a nightmare. They had risen half drunk from their hot, hard bed, and stupidly had passed him near the gangway with a maudlin: "Fi' morn'n, Fazzer!" And he was studying all day the mighty problem, that has occupied more attention than half the more serious problems of the world. What is it? What is it?-the fatal bias towards intoxication that seems to distinguish the race? Indolence, vacuity of thought, the fatal altruism of the race? What is it? Or is it only a political calumny?

And side by side, alternating rapidly with the bitter reflection, came the question: Why will not Irish mothers educate their children at home? Have we not convents, etc.? Why, it is Irish nuns who are teaching here in Plymouth and throughout England. What is in the English air that the same teachers can teach better here than at home? Or is it the everlasting serfdom of the race, always crouching at the feet of the conqueror, always lessening and depreciating its own large possibilities? Let it alone, Luke, let it alone! Except, indeed, as an exercise, to while away a long afternoon under sleepy awnings, and to soothe your nerves with the dull mechanic interplay of questions that are forever seeking and never finding an answer, let it alone, let it alone! But Luke was not made thus. He had a great taste for the insoluble.

Late in the evening he heard the same officer chatting freely in French, and with the absolute ease of a native, with a young governess who was returning to her home from Ireland. He listened, not with curiosity, but just to see if he could distinguish one word. Not a word! And he had got a prize in French in his logic year. "Hang Wegscheider and the Monophysites," thought Luke.

Now, I should like to know where is the connection between Wegscheider, a fairly modern German, and people that lived fifteen centuries ago? But that is the way the lobes of the brain work and interchange ideas, not always sympathetic, or even relevant, especially when the schoolmaster is in a passion, and demands too much work at once from his willing pupils.

Next day the vessel had swung into the gangway of the

world that mighty sea-avenue that stretches from the Downs and the Forelands right up to London Bridge. The vessel's engines were slowed down, for this was a pathway where the passengers had to pick their steps; for all along the banks at intervals, where the plastic hand of man had built wharves and quays, there was a plantation of bare masts and yards that cut the sky; and now and again a stately steamer loomed up out of the eternal haze, and grew and swelled into colossal blackness; then passed and subsided into the dimensions of a waterfowl that troubles the tranquil waters with swift alarm. Bound for the Orient, and laden with freights of merchandise from the mechanism of a locomotive to the Brummagem-made idol for far Cathay; bound for the Occident, and laden to the water's edge, and stuffed chock-full with rolls and bales from the looms of Manchester; bound for the roaring Cape and the sleepy isles of the Pacific; bound for the West Indies and the Bermudas, whence Nature has tried in vain to frighten them with her explosive earthquakes or the dread artillery of her typhoons; or homeward from far climates, and with the rusty marks of the storm on their hulls, and their sailors staring at the old familiar sights on land and water-like fairy shuttles, moving to and fro across the woof of many waters,-the fleets of the empire came and went, and Luke fancied he saw the far round world as in a magic mirror, and that he smelt the spices of Sultans and the musk of the gardens of Persia, as the stately argosies swept by. It was a magnificent panorama, and recalled the times when the Mare Magnum was swept by the oars of the Roman triremes, and dusky Ethiopians sweated at the galleys of their Roman masters. Then the vision faded, and in the raw cold of an exceptionally sharp morning, Luke stepped across the gangway and looked down at the mighty sewer of a river, and came face to face with all the squalor and fetor of London life.

He was calmly but courteously received at the presbytery attached to the cathedral; and it surprised him not a little to perceive that his arrival was regarded as an event of as ordinary importance as the closing of a door or the ticking of a clock. He took his seat at the dinnertable; and he might have been dining there for the last twenty years, so little notice was taken of him.

He was a little surprised when he was told:"Delmege, if you want bread, you can get it at the sideboard; but cut the loaf even, please."

He was little amused when some one asked:"I say, Delmege, is it a fact that the curates in Ireland give dinners at a guinea a head?"

He replied: "I have dined with curates, and even with parish priests lately, and the dinner did not cost a cent per head."

[ocr errors]

"Tell that to the marines," was the reply.

And he was almost edified, yet partly nonplussed, when his former interrogator took him out promptly after dinner to show him the slums, and coolly told him on returning that he was to preach to a confraternity that evening.

But what struck him most forcibly was, the calm independence with which each individual expressed his opinion, and the easy toleration with which they differed from each other, and even contradicted, without the slightest shade of asperity or resentment. This was a perpetual wonder to Luke during his whole career in England.

The following Friday he was submitted to a brief examination for faculties. His examiners were the Vicar-General and the Diocesan Inspector, a convert from Anglicanism.

"In the case of a convert," said the Vicar, without preliminaries," whom you ascertained to have never been baptized, but who was married, and had a grown-up family, what would you do?"

"I should proceed with great caution," said Luke, to whom the question seemed rather impertinent and farfetched. He had been expecting to be asked how many grave professors were on this side, and how many excellent writers were on that side, of some abstruse theological problem.

"Very good," said the Vicar, "and then?" "I think I should let it alone," said Luke.

"Very good. But these good people are not married. Could you allow them to remain so?"

"It depends on whether they are bona fide, or mala fide," said Luke, reddening.

"Of course they are bona fide," said the Vicar. "Look it up, Delmege, at your convenience."

"How would you refute the arguments for continuity amongst the Anglican divines?" said the Inspector.

"How would you prove to a lunatic that black is not white, and that yesterday is not to-day?" said Luke. Ah, Luke! Luke! where are all your resolutions about interior recollection and self-restraint? You are far from the illu

minative state, as yet!

"That will hardly do," said the Inspector, smiling courteously; "remember you have to face Laud and the Elizabethans, and Pusey and the host of Victorian divines, now."

"We never thought of such things," said Luke; "we thought that the old doctrines of Transubstantiation, Purgatory, Confession, etc., were the subjects of controversy to-day. No one in Ireland even dreams of denying that the Reformation was a distinct secession."

"Very good, very good," said the Inspector. "One word more. In case you had a sick-call to St. Thomas's Hospital here, and when you arrived, you found the surgeons engaged in an operation on a Catholic patient, which operation would probably prove fatal, what would you do?"

"I would politely ask them to suspend the operation for a few minutes—”

"And do you think they would remove the knives at your request, and probably let the patient collapse?"

"I'd give the patient conditional absolution," said Luke, faintly.

"Very good.

You wouldn't-a-knock down two or three of the surgeons and clear the room?" said the Vicar, with a smile.

"N-no," said Luke. He was very angry. Dear me! no one appears to have heard of Wegscheider at all.

"That's all right," said the examiners. "You 'll get the printed form of faculties this afternoon. Confessions tomorrow from two to six, and from seven to ten. Goodday."

Luke went to his room. He was never so angry in his life before. He expected a lengthened ordeal, in which deep and recondite questions would be introduced, and in which he would have some chance at last of showing what he had learned in the famous halls of his college. And lo! not a particle of dust was touched or flicked away

from dusty, dead folios; but here spick and span, were trotted out airy nothings about ephemeral and transient everyday existences; and he had not got one chance of saying-" Sic argumentaris Domine!" Evidently, these men had never heard of a syllogism in their lives. And then, everything was so curt and short as to be almost contemptuous. Clearly, these men had something to do in the workaday world besides splitting hairs with a young Hibernian. Luke was angry with himself, with his college, with that smiling ex-parson, who had probably read about two years' philosophy and theology before his ordination; and with that grim, sardonic old Vicar, who had never opened a treatise since he graduated at Douai or Rheims. Hence it happened that at dinner, when a strange priest asked simply what percentage of illiterates were in the diocese, and the old Vicar grimly answered:

"About fifty per cent.-mostly Irish and Italian "Luke flared up and said:

"We weren't illiterate when we brought the Faith of old to your ancestors, who were eating acorns with the boars in your forests, and painting their dirty bodies with woad; and when your kings were glad to fly to our monasteries for an education, nowhere else obtainable on this planet."

The stranger patted Luke on the back, and said "Bravo!" The Vicar pushed over the jug of beer. But they were friends from that moment. A gnarled, knotty, not in any sense of the word euphonious old Beresark was this same old Vicar-his steel-blue eyes staring ever steadily and with anxious inquiry in them from the jagged penthouse of gray eyebrows; and his clear, metallic voice, never toned down to politeness and amenity, but dashed in a spray of sarcasm on bishop, and canon, and curate indiscriminately. He would blow you sky high at a moment's notice; the next minute he would kneel down and tie the latchets of your shoes. A wonderful taste and talent, too, he had for economics; not ungenerous by any means, or parsimonious; but he objected very strongly to any abstraction of jam on the sleeve of your soutane, or any too generous distribution of brown gravy on the thirsty tablecloth.

Saturday came, and Luke braced himself for the second

« PreviousContinue »