There was much stir and commotion on the night of Thursday, January the
14th, 1874, in the Gideonite Apostolic Church, number 47, Walworth Lane,
Peckham, S.E. Anybody could see at a glance that some important business
was under consideration; for the Apostle was there himself, in his chair
of presidency, and the twelve Episcops were there, and the forty-eight
Presbyters, and a large and earnest gathering of the Gideonite laity. It<
was only a small bare school-room, fitted with wooden benches, was that
headquarters station of the young Church; but you could not look around
it once without seeing that its occupants were of the sort by whom great
religious revolutions may be made or marred. For the Gideonites were one
of those strange enthusiastic hole-and-corner sects that spring up
naturally in the outlying suburbs of great thinking centres. They gather
around the marked personality of some one ardent, vigorous,
half-educated visionary; and they consist for the most part of
intelligent, half-reasoning people, who are bold enough to cast
overboard the dogmatic beliefs of their fathers, but not so bold as to
exercise their logical faculty upon the fundamental basis on which the
dogmas originally rested. The Gideonites had thus collected around the
fixed centre of their Apostle, a retired attorney, Murgess by name,
whose teaching commended itself to their groping reason as the pure
outcome of faithful Biblical research; and they had chosen their name
because, though they were but three hundred in number, they had full
confidence that when the time came they would blow their trumpets, and
all the host of Midian would be scattered before them. In fact, they
divided the world generally into Gideonite and Midianite, for they knew
that he that was not with them was against them. And no wonder, for the
people of Peckham did not love the struggling Church. Its chief doctrine
was one of absolute celibacy, like the Shakers of America; and to this
doctrine the Church had testified in the Old Kent Road and elsewhere
after a vigorous practical fashion that roused the spirit of
South-eastern London into the fiercest opposition. The young men and
maidens, said the Apostle, must no longer marry or be given in marriage;
the wives and husbands must dwell asunder; and the earth must be made as
an image of heaven. These were heterodox opinions, indeed, which
South-eastern London could only receive with a strenuous counterblast of
orthodox brickbats and sound Anglican road metal.
The fleece of wool was duly laid upon the floor; the trumpet and the
lamp were placed upon the bare wooden reading desk; and the Apostle,
rising slowly from his seat, began to address the assembled Gideonites.
"Friends," he said, in a low, clear, impressive voice, with a musical
ring tempering its slow distinctness, "we have met together to-night to
take counsel with one another upon a high matter. It is plain to all of
us that the work of the Church in the world does not prosper as it might
prosper were the charge of it in worthier hands. We have to contend
against great difficulties. We are not among the rich or the mighty of
the earth; and the poor whom we have always with us do not listen to us.
It is expedient, therefore, that we should set some one among us aside
to be instructed thoroughly in those things that are most commonly
taught among the Midianites at Oxford or Cambridge. To some of you it
may seem, as it seemed at first to me, that such a course would involve
going back upon the very principles of our constitution. We are not to
overcome Midian by our own hand, nor by the strength of two and thirty
thousand, but by the trumpet, and the pitcher, and the cake of barley
bread. Yet, when I searched and inquired after this matter, it seemed to
me that we might also err by overmuch confidence on the other side. For
Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, was made ready for the task by
being learned in all the learning of the Egyptians. Daniel, who
testified in the captivity, was cunning in knowledge, and understanding
science, and instructed in the wisdom and tongue of the Chaldeans. Paul,
who was the apostle of the Gentiles, had not only sat at the feet of
Gamaliel, but was also able from their own poets and philosophers to
confute the sophisms and subtleties of the Grecians themselves. These
things show us that we should not too lightly despise even worldly
learning and worldly science. Perhaps we have gone wrong in thinking too
little of such dross, and being puffed up with spiritual pride. The
world might listen to us more readily if we had one who could speak the
word for us in the tongues understanded of the world."
As he paused, a hum of acquiescence went round the room.
"It has seemed to me, then," the Apostle went on, "that we ought to
choose some one among our younger brethren, upon whose shoulders the
cares and duties of the Apostolate might hereafter fall. We are a poor
people, but by subscription among ourselves we might raise a sufficient
sum to send the chosen person first to a good school here in London, and
afterwards to the University of Oxford. It may seem a doubtful and a
hazardous thing thus to stake our future upon any one young man; but
then we must remember that the choice will not be wholly or even mainly
ours; we will be guided and directed as we ever are in the laying on of
hands. To me, considering this matter thus, it has seemed that there is
one youth in our body who is specially pointed out for this work. Only
one child has ever been born into the Church: he, as you know, is the
son of brother John Owen and sister Margaret Owen, who were received
into the fold just six days before his birth. Paul Owen's very name
seems to many of us, who take nothing for chance but all things for
divinely ordered, to mark him out at once as a foreordained Apostle. Is
it your wish, then, Presbyter John Owen, to dedicate your only son to
Presbyter John Owen rose from the row of seats assigned to the
forty-eight, and moved hesitatingly towards the platform. He was an
intelligent-looking, honest-faced, sunburnt working man, a mason by
trade, who had come into the Church from the Baptist society; and he was
awkwardly dressed in his Sunday clothes, with the scrupulous clumsy
neatness of a respectable artisan who expects to take part in an
important ceremony. He spoke nervously and with hesitation, but with all
the transparent earnestness of a simple, enthusiastic nature.
"Apostle and friends," he said, "it ain't very easy for me to
disentangle my feelin's on this subjec' from one another. I hope I ain't
moved by any worldly feelin', an' yet I hardly know how to keep such
considerations out, for there's no denyin' that it would be a great
pleasure to me and to his mother to see our Paul becomin' a teacher in
Israel, and receivin' an education such as you, Apostle, has pinted out.
But we hope, too, we ain't insensible to the good of the Church and the
advantage that it might derive from our Paul's support and preachin'. We
can't help seein' ourselves that the lad has got abilities; and we've
tried to train him up from his youth upward, like Timothy, for the
furtherance of the right doctrine. If the Church thinks he's fit for the
work laid upon him, his mother and me'll be glad to dedicate him to the
He sat down awkwardly, and the Church again hummed its approbation in a
suppressed murmur. The Apostle rose once more, and briefly called on
Paul Owen to stand forward.
In answer to the call, a tall, handsome, earnest-eyed boy advanced
timidly to the platform. It was no wonder that those enthusiastic
Gideonite visionaries should have seen in his face the visible stamp of
the Apostleship. Paul Owen had a rich crop of dark-brown glossy and
curly hair, cut something after the Florentine Cinque-cento fashion--not
because his parents wished him to look artistic, but because that was
the way in which they had seen the hair dressed in all the sacred
pictures that they knew; and Margaret Owen, the daughter of some
Wesleyan Spitalfields weaver folk, with the imaginative Huguenot blood
still strong in her veins, had made up her mind ever since she became
Convinced of the Truth (as their phrase ran) that her Paul was called
from his cradle to a great work. His features were delicately chiselled,
and showed rather natural culture, like his mother's, than rough
honesty, like John Owen's, or strong individuality, like the masterful
Apostle's. His eyes were peculiarly deep and luminous, with a far-away
look which might have reminded an artist of the central boyish figure in
Holman Hunt's picture of the Doctors in the Temple. And yet Paul Owen
had a healthy colour in his cheek and a general sturdiness of limb and
muscle which showed that he was none of your nervous, bloodless, sickly
idealists, but a wholesome English peasant boy of native refinement and
delicate sensibilities. He moved forward with some natural hesitation
before the eyes of so many people--ay, and what was more terrible, of
the entire Church upon earth; but he was not awkward and constrained in
his action like his father. One could see that he was sustained in the
prominent part he took that morning by the consciousness of a duty he
had to perform and a mission laid upon him which he must not reject.
"Are you willing, my son Paul," asked the Apostle, gravely, "to take
upon yourself the task that the Church proposes?"
"I am willing," answered the boy in a low voice, "grace preventing me."
"Does all the Church unanimously approve the election of our brother
Paul to this office?" the Apostle asked formally; for it was a rule with
the Gideonites that nothing should be done except by the unanimous and
spontaneous action of the whole body, acting under direct and immediate
inspiration; and all important matters were accordingly arranged
beforehand by the Apostle in private interviews with every member of the
Church individually, so that everything that took place in public
assembly had the appearance of being wholly unquestioned. They took
counsel first with one another, and consulted the Scripture together;
and when all private doubts were satisfied, they met as a Church to
ratify in solemn conclave their separate conclusions. It was not often
that the Apostle did not have his own way. Not only had he the most
marked personality and the strongest will, but he alone also had Greek
and Hebrew enough to appeal always to the original word; and that
mysterious amount of learning, slight as it really was, sufficed almost
invariably to settle the scruples of his wholly ignorant and pliant
disciples. Reverence for the literal Scripture in its primitive language
was the corner-stone of the Gideonite Church; and for all practical
purposes, its one depositary and exponent for them was the Apostle
himself. Even the Rev. Albert Barnes's Commentary was held to possess an
"The Church approves," was the unanimous answer.
"Then, Episcops, Presbyters, and brethren," said the Apostle, taking up
a roll of names, "I have to ask that you will each mark down on this
paper opposite your own names how much a year you can spare of your
substance for six years to come as a guarantee fund for this great work.
You must remember that the ministry of this Church has cost you nothing;
freely I have received and freely given; do you now bear your part in
equipping a new aspirant for the succession to the Apostolate."
The two senior Episcops took two rolls from his hand, and went round the
benches with a stylographic pen (so strangely do the ages
mingle--Apostles and stylographs) silently asking each to put down his
voluntary subscription. Meanwhile the Apostle read slowly and reverently
a few appropriate sentences of Scripture. Some of the richer
members--well-to-do small tradesmen of Peckham--put down a pound or even
two pounds apiece; the poorer brethren wrote themselves down for ten
shillings or even five. In the end the guarantee list amounted to
195l. a year. The Apostle reckoned it up rapidly to himself, and then
announced the result to the assembly, with a gentle smile relaxing his
austere countenance. He was well pleased, for the sum was quite
sufficient to keep Paul Owen two years at school in London and then send
him comfortably if not splendidly to Oxford. The boy had already had a
fair education in Latin and some Greek, at the Birkbeck Schools; and
with two years' further study he might even gain a scholarship (for he
was a bright lad), which would materially lessen the expense to the
young Church. Unlike many prophets and enthusiasts, the Apostle was a
good man of business; and he had taken pains to learn all about these
favourable chances before embarking his people on so very doubtful a
The Assembly was just about to close, when one of the Presbyters rose
unexpectedly to put a question which, contrary to the usual practice,
had not already been submitted for approbation to the Apostle. He was a
hard-headed, thickset, vulgar-looking man, a greengrocer at Denmark
Hill, and the Apostle always looked upon him as a thorn in his side,
promoted by inscrutable wisdom to the Presbytery for the special purpose
of keeping down the Apostle's spiritual pride.
"One more pint, Apostle," he said abruptly, "afore we close. It seems to
me that even in the Church's work we'd ought to be business-like. Now,
it ain't business-like to let this young man, Brother Paul, get his
eddication out of us, if I may so speak afore the Church, on spec. It's
all very well our sayin' he's to be eddicated and take on the
Apostleship, but how do we know but what when he's had his eddication he
may fall away and become a backslider, like Demas and like others among
ourselves that we could mention? He may go to Oxford among a lot of
Midianites, and them of the great an' mighty of the earth too, and how
do we know but what he may round upon the Church, and go back upon us
after we've paid for his eddication? So what I want to ask is just this,
can't we bind him down in a bond that if he don't take the Apostleship
with the consent of the Church when it falls vacant he'll pay us back
our money, so as we can eddicate up another as'll be more worthy?"
The Apostle moved uneasily in his chair; but before he could speak, Paul
Owen's indignation found voice, and he said out his say boldly before
the whole assembly, blushing crimson with mingled shame and excitement
as he did so. "If Brother Grimshaw and all the brethren think so ill of
me that they cannot trust my honesty and honour," he said, "they need
not be at the pains of educating me. I will sign no bond and enter into
no compact. But if you suppose that I will be a backslider, you do not
know me, and I will confer no more with you upon the subject."
"My son Paul is right," the Apostle said, flushing up in turn at the
boy's audacity; "we will not make the affairs of the Spirit a matter for
bonds and earthly arrangements. If the Church thinks as I do, you will
all rise up."
All rose except Presbyter Grimshaw. For a moment there was some
hesitation, for the rule of the Church in favour of unanimity was
absolute; but the Apostle fixed his piercing eyes on Job Grimshaw, and
after a minute or so Job Grimshaw too rose slowly, like one compelled by
an unseen power, and cast in his vote grudgingly with the rest. There
was nothing more said about signing an agreement.
Meenie Bolton had counted a great deal upon her visit to Oxford, and she
found it quite as delightful as she had anticipated. Her brother knew
such a nice set of men, especially Mr. Owen, of Christchurch. Meenie had
never been so near falling in love with anybody in her life as she was
with Paul Owen. He was so handsome and so clever, and then there was
something so romantic about this strange Church they said he belonged
to. Meenie's father was a country parson, and the way in which Paul
shrank from talking about the rector, as if his office were something
wicked or uncanny, piqued and amused her. There was an heretical tinge
about him which made him doubly interesting to the Rector's daughter.
The afternoon water party that eventful Thursday, down to Nuneham, she
looked forward to with the deepest interest. For her aunt, the
Professor's wife, who was to take charge of them, was certainly the most
delightful and most sensible of chaperons.
"Is it really true, Mr. Owen," she said, as they sat together for ten
minutes alone after their picnic luncheon, by the side of the weir under
the shadow of the Nuneham beeches--"is it really true that this Church
of yours doesn't allow people to marry?"
Paul coloured up to his eyes as he answered, "Well, Miss Bolton, I don't
know that you should identify me too absolutely with my Church. I was
very young when they selected me to go to Oxford, and my opinions have
decidedly wavered a good deal lately. But the Church certainly does
forbid marriage. I have always been brought up to look upon it as
Meenie laughed aloud; and Paul, to whom the question was no laughing
matter, but a serious point of conscientious scruple, could hardly help
laughing with her, so infectious was that pleasant ripple. He checked
himself with an effort, and tried to look serious. "Do you know," he
said, "when I first came to Christchurch, I doubted even whether I ought
to make your brother's acquaintance because he was a clergyman's son. I
was taught to describe clergymen always as priests of Midian." He never
talked about his Church to anybody at Oxford, and it was a sort of
relief to him to speak on the subject to Meenie, in spite of her
laughing eyes and undisguised amusement. The other men would have
laughed at him too, but their laughter would have been less sympathetic.
"And do you think them priests of Midian still?" asked Meenie.
"Miss Bolton," said Paul suddenly, as one who relieves his overburdened
mind by a great effort, "I am almost moved to make a confidante of you."
"There is nothing I love better than confidences," Meenie answered; and
she might truthfully have added, "particularly from you."
"Well, I have been passing lately through a great many doubts and
difficulties. I was brought up by my Church to become its next Apostle,
and I have been educated at their expense both in London and here. You
know," Paul added with his innate love of telling out the whole truth,
"I am not a gentleman; I am the son of poor working people in London."
"Tom told me who your parents were," Meenie answered simply; "but he
told me, too, you were none the less a true gentleman born for that; and
I see myself he told me right."
Paul flushed again--he had a most unmanly trick of flushing up--and
bowed a little timid bow. "Thank you," he said quietly. "Well, while I
was in London I lived entirely among my own people, and never heard
anything talked about except our own doctrines. I thought our Apostle
the most learned, the wisest, and the greatest of men. I had not a doubt
about the absolute infallibility of our own opinions. But ever since I
came to Oxford I have slowly begun to hesitate and to falter. When I
came up first, the men laughed at me a good deal in a good-humoured way,
because I wouldn't do as they did. Then I thought myself persecuted for
the truth's sake, and was glad. But the men were really very kind and
forbearing to me; they never argued with me or bullied me; they
respected my scruples, and said nothing more about it as soon as they
found out what they really were. That was my first stumbling-block. If
they had fought me and debated with me, I might have stuck to my own
opinions by force of opposition. But they turned me in upon myself
completely by their silence, and mastered me by their kindly
forbearance. Point by point I began to give in, till now I hardly know
where I am standing."
"You wouldn't join the cricket club at first, Tom says."
"No, I wouldn't. I thought it wrong to walk in the ways of Midian. But
gradually I began to argue myself out of my scruples, and now I
positively pull six in the boat, and wear a Christchurch ribbon on my
hat. I have given up protesting against having my letters addressed to
me as Esquire (though I have really no right to the title), and I nearly
went the other day to have some cards engraved with my name as 'Mr. Paul
Owen.' I am afraid I'm backsliding terribly."
Meenie laughed again. "If that is all you have to burden your conscience
with," she said, "I don't think you need spend many sleepless nights."
"Quite so," Paul answered, smiling; "I think so myself. But that is not
all. I have begun to have serious doubts about the Apostle himself and
the whole Church altogether. I have been three years at Oxford now; and
while I was reading for Mods, I don't think I was so unsettled in my
mind. But since I have begun reading philosophy for my Greats, I have
had to go into all sorts of deep books--Mill, and Spencer, and Bain, and
all kinds of fellows who really think about things, you know, down to
the very bottom--and an awful truth begins to dawn upon me, that our
Apostle is after all only a very third-rate type of a thinker. Now that,
you know, is really terrible."
"I don't see why," Meenie answered demurely. She was beginning to get
"That is because you have never had to call in question a cherished and
almost ingrown faith. You have never realized any similar circumstances.
Here am I, brought up by these good, honest, earnest people, with their
own hard-earned money, as a pillar of their belief. I have been taught
to look upon myself as the chosen advocate of their creed, and on the
Apostle as an almost divinely inspired man. My whole life has been bound
up in it; I have worked and read night and day in order to pass high and
do honour to the Church; and now what do I begin to find the Church
really is? A petty group of poor, devoted, enthusiastic, ignorant
people, led blindly by a decently instructed but narrow-minded teacher,
who has mixed up his own headstrong self-conceit and self-importance
with his own peculiar ideas of abstract religion." Paul paused, half
surprised at himself, for, though he had doubted before, he had never
ventured till that day to formulate his doubts, even to himself, in such
plain and straightforward language.
"I see," said Meenie, gravely; "you have come into a wider world; you
have mixed with wider ideas; and the wider world has converted you,
instead of your converting the world. Well, that is only natural. Others
beside you have had to change their opinions."
"Yes, yes; but for me it is harder--oh! so much harder."
"Because you have looked forward to being an Apostle?"
"Miss Bolton, you do me injustice--not in what you say, but in the tone
you say it in. No, it is not the giving up of the Apostleship that
troubles me, though I did hope that I might help in my way to make the
world a new earth; but it is the shock and downfall of their hopes to
all those good earnest people, and especially--oh! especially, Miss
Bolton, to my own dear father and mother." His eyes filled with tears as
"I can understand," said Meenie, sympathetically, her eyes dimming a
little in response. "They have set their hearts all their lives long on
your accomplishing this work, and it will be to them the disappointment
of a cherished romance."
They looked at one another a few minutes in silence.
"How long have you begun to have your doubts?" Meenie asked after the
"A long time, but most of all since I saw you. It has made me--it has
made me hesitate more about the fundamental article of our faith. Even
now, I am not sure whether it is not wrong of me to be talking so with
you about such matters."
"I see," said Meenie, a little more archly; "it comes perilously
near----" and she broke off, for she felt she had gone a step too far.
"Perilously near falling in love," Paul continued boldly, turning his
big eyes full upon her. "Yes, perilously near."
Their eyes met; Meenie's fell; and they said no more. But they both felt
they understood one another. Just at that moment the Professor's wife
came up to interrupt the tete-a-tete; "for that young Owen," she said
to herself, "is really getting quite too confidential with dear Meenie."
That same evening Paul paced up and down his rooms in Peckwater with all
his soul strangely upheaved within him and tossed and racked by a dozen
conflicting doubts and passions. Had he gone too far? Had he yielded
like Adam to the woman who beguiled him? Had he given way like Samson to
the snares of Delilah? For the old Scripture phraseology and imagery, so
long burned into his very nature, clung to him still in spite of all his
faltering changes of opinion. Had he said more than he thought and felt
about the Apostle? Even if he was going to revise his views, was it
right, was it candid, was it loyal to the truth, that he should revise
them under the biassing influence of Meenie's eyes? If only he could
have separated the two questions--the Apostle's mission, and the
something which he felt growing up within him! But he could not--and, as
he suspected, for a most excellent reason, because the two were
intimately bound up in the very warp and woof of his existence. Nature
was asserting herself against the religious asceticism of the Apostle;
it could not be so wrong for him to feel those feelings that had
thrilled every heart in all his ancestors for innumerable generations.
He was in love with Meenie: he knew that clearly now. And this love was
after all not such a wicked and terrible feeling; on the contrary, he
felt all the better and the purer for it already. But then that might
merely be the horrible seductiveness of the thing. Was it not always
typified by the cup of Circe, by the song of the Sirens, by all that was
alluring and beautiful and hollow? He paced up and down for half an
hour, and then (he had sported his oak long ago) he lit his little
reading lamp and sat down in the big chair by the bay window. Running
his eyes over his bookshelf, he took out, half by chance, Spencer's
"Sociology." Then, from sheer weariness, he read on for a while, hardly
heeding what he read. At last he got interested, and finished a chapter.
When he had finished it, he put the book down, and felt that the
struggle was over. Strange that side by side in the same world, in the
same London, there should exist two such utterly different types of man
as Herbert Spencer and the Gideonite Apostle. The last seemed to belong
to the sixteenth century, the first to some new and hitherto uncreated
social world. In an age which produced thinkers like that, how could he
ever have mistaken the poor, bigoted, narrow, half-instructed Apostle
for a divinely inspired teacher! So far as Paul Owen was concerned, the
Gideonite Church and all that belonged to it had melted utterly into
Three days later, after the Eights in the early evening, Paul found an
opportunity of speaking again alone with Meenie. He had taken their
party on to the Christchurch barge to see the race, and he was strolling
with them afterwards round the meadow walk by the bank of the Cherwell.
Paul managed to get a little in front with Meenie, and entered at once
upon the subject of his late embarrassments.
"I have thought it all over since, Miss Bolton," he said--he half
hesitated whether he should say "Meenie" or not, and she was half
disappointed that he didn't, for they were both very young, and very
young people fall in love so unaffectedly--"I have thought it all over,
and I have come to the conclusion that there is no help for it: I must
break openly with the Church."
"Of course," said Meenie, simply. "That I understood."
He smiled at her ingenuousness. Such a very forward young person! And
yet he liked it. "Well, the next thing is, what to do about it. You see,
I have really been obtaining my education, so to speak, under false
pretences. I can't continue taking these good people's money after I
have ceased to believe in their doctrines. I ought to have faced the
question sooner. It was wrong of me to wait until--until it was forced
upon me by other considerations."
This time it was Meenie who blushed. "But you don't mean to leave Oxford
without taking your degree?" she asked quickly.
"No, I think it will be better not. To stop here and try for a
fellowship is my best chance of repaying these poor people the money
which I have taken from them for no purpose."
"I never thought of that," said Meenie. "You are bound in honour to pay
them back, of course."
Paul liked the instantaneous honesty of that "of course." It marked the
naturally honourable character; for "of course," too, they must wait to
marry (young people jump so) till all that money was paid off.
"Fortunately," he said, "I have lived economically, and have not spent
nearly as much as they guaranteed. I got scholarships up to a hundred a
year of my own, and I only took a hundred a year of theirs. They offered
me two hundred. But there's five years at a hundred, that makes five
hundred pounds--a big debt to begin life with."
"Never mind," said Meenie. "You will get a fellowship, and in a few
years you can pay it off."
"Yes," said Paul, "I can pay it off. But I can never pay off the hopes
and aspirations I have blighted. I must become a schoolmaster, or a
barrister, or something of that sort, and never repay them for their
self-sacrifice and devotion in making me whatever I shall become. They
may get back their money, but they will have lost their cherished
Apostle for ever."
"Mr. Owen," Meenie answered solemnly, "the seal of the Apostolate lies
far deeper than that. It was born in you, and no act of yours can shake
"Meenie," he said, looking at her gently, with a changed
expression--"Meenie, we shall have to wait many years."
"Never mind, Paul," she replied, as naturally as if he had been Paul to
her all her life long, "I can wait if you can. But what will you do for
the immediate present?"
"I have my scholarship," he said; "I can get on partly upon that; and
then I can take pupils; and I have only one year more of it."
So before they parted that night it was all well understood between them
that Paul was to declare his defection from the Church at the earliest
opportunity; that he was to live as best he might till he could take his
degree; that he was then to pay off all the back debt; and that after
all these things he and Meenie might get comfortably married whenever
they were able. As to the Rector and his wife, or any other parental
authorities, they both left them out in the cold as wholly as young
people always do leave their elders out on all similar occasions.
"Maria's a born fool!" said the Rector to his wife a week after Meenie's
return; "I always knew she was a fool, but I never knew she was quite
such a fool as to permit a thing like this. So far as I can get it out
of Edie, and so far as Edie can get it out of Meenie, I understand that
she has allowed Meenie to go and get herself engaged to some Dissenter
fellow, a Shaker, or a Mormon, or a Communist, or something of the sort,
who is the son of a common labourer, and has been sent up to Oxford, Tom
tells me, by his own sect, to be made into a gentleman, so as to give
some sort or colour of respectability to their absurd doctrines. I shall
send the girl to town at once to Emily's, and she shall stop there all
next season, to see if she can't manage to get engaged to some young man
in decent society at any rate."
When Paul Owen returned to Peckham for the long vacation, it was with a
heavy heart that he ventured back slowly to his father's cottage.
Margaret Owen had put everything straight and neat in the little living
room, as she always did, to welcome home her son who had grown into a
gentleman; and honest John stood at the threshold beaming with pleasure
to wring Paul's hand in his firm grip, just back unwashed from his day's
labour. After the first kissings and greetings were over, John Owen said
rather solemnly, "I have bad news for you, Paul. The Apostle is sick,
even unto death."
When Paul heard that, he was sorely tempted to put off the disclosure
for the present; but he felt he must not. So that same night, as they
sat together in the dusk near the window where the geraniums stood, he
began to unburden his whole mind, gently and tentatively, so as to spare
their feelings as much as possible, to his father and mother. He told
them how, since he went to Oxford, he had learned to think somewhat
differently about many things; how his ideas had gradually deepened and
broadened; how he had begun to inquire into fundamentals for himself;
how he had feared that the Gideonites took too much for granted, and
reposed too implicitly on the supposed critical learning of their
Apostle. As he spoke his mother listened in tearful silence; but his
father murmured from time to time, "I was afeard of this already, Paul;
I seen it coming, now and again, long ago." There was pity and regret in
his tone, but not a shade of reproachfulness.
At last, however, Paul came to speak, timidly and reservedly, of Meenie.
Then his father's eye began to flash a little, and his breath came
deeper and harder. When Paul told him briefly that he was engaged to
her, the strong man could stand it no longer. He rose up in righteous
wrath, and thrust his son at arm's length from him. "What!" he cried
fiercely, "you don't mean to tell me you have fallen into sin and looked
upon the daughters of Midian! It was no Scriptural doubts that druv you
on, then, but the desire of the flesh and the lust of the eyes that has
lost you! You dare to stand up there, Paul Owen, and tell me that you
throw over the Church and the Apostle for the sake of a girl, like a
poor miserable Samson! You are no son of mine, and I have nothin' more
to say to you."
But Margaret Owen put her hand on his shoulder and said softly, "John,
let us hear him out." And John, recalled by that gentle touch, listened
once more. Then Paul pleaded his case powerfully again. He quoted
Scripture to them; he argued with them, after their own fashion, and
down to their own comprehension, text by text; he pitted his own
critical and exegetical faculty against the Apostle's. Last of all, he
turned to his mother, who, tearful still and heart-broken with
disappointment, yet looked admiringly upon her learned, eloquent boy,
and said to her tenderly, "Remember, mother, you yourself were once in
love. You yourself once stood, night after night, leaning on the gate,
waiting with your heart beating for a footstep that you knew so well.
You yourself once counted the days and the hours and the minutes till
the next meeting came." And Margaret Owen, touched to the heart by that
simple appeal, kissed him fervently a dozen times over, the hot tears
dropping on his cheek meanwhile; and then, contrary to all the rules of
their austere Church, she flung her arms round her husband too, and
kissed him passionately the first time for twenty years, with all the
fervour of a floodgate loosed. Paul Owen's apostolate had surely borne
its first fruit.
The father stood for a moment in doubt and terror, like one stunned or
dazed, and then, in a moment of sudden remembrance, stepped forward and
returned the kiss. The spell was broken, and the Apostle's power was no
more. What else passed in the cottage that night, when John Owen fell
upon his knees and wrestled in spirit, was too wholly internal to the
man's own soul for telling here. Next day John and Margaret Owen felt
the dream of their lives was gone; but the mother in her heart rejoiced
to think her boy might know the depths of love, and might bring home a
real lady for his wife.
On Sunday it was rumoured that the Apostle's ailment was very serious;
but young Brother Paul Owen would address the Church. He did so, though
not exactly in the way the Church expected. He told them simply and
plainly how he had changed his views about certain matters; how he
thanked them from his heart for the loan of their money (he was careful
to emphasize the word loan), which had helped him to carry on his
education at Oxford; and how he would repay them the principal and
interest, though he could never repay them the kindness, at the earliest
possible opportunity. He was so grave, so earnest, so transparently
true, that, in spite of the downfall of their dearest hopes, he carried
the whole meeting with him, all save one man. That man was Job Grimshaw.
Job rose from his place with a look of undisguised triumph as soon as
Paul had finished, and, mounting the platform quietly, said his say.
"I knew, Episcops, Presbyters, and Brethren," he began, "how this 'ere
young man would finish. I saw it the day he was appinted. He's flushing
up now the same as he flushed up then when I spoke to him; and it ain't
sperritual, it's worldly pride and headstrongness, that's what it is.
He's had our money, and he's had his eddication, and now he's going to
round on us, just as I said he would. It's all very well talking about
paying us back: how's a young man like him to get five hundred pounds, I
should like to know. And if he did even, what sort o' repayment would
that be to many of the brethren, who've saved and scraped for five year
to let him live like a gentleman among the great and the mighty o'
Midian? He's got his eddication out of us, and he can keep that whatever
happens, and make a living out of it, too; and now he's going back on
us, same as I said he would, and, having got all he can out of the
Church, he's going to chuck it away like a sucked orange. I detest such
backsliding and such ungratefulness."
Paul's cup of humiliation was full, but he bit his lip till the blood
almost came, and made no answer.
"He boasted in his own strength," Job went on mercilessly, "that he
wasn't going to be a backslider, and he wasn't going to sign no bond,
and he wasn't going to confer with us, but we must trust his honour and
honesty, and such like. I've got his very words written down in my
notebook 'ere; for I made a note of 'em, foreseeing this. If we'd 'a'
bound him down, as I proposed, he wouldn't 'a' dared to go backsliding
and rounding on us, and making up to the daughters of Midian, as I don't
doubt but what he's been doing." Paul's tell-tale face showed him at
once that he had struck by accident on the right chord. "But if he ever
goes bringing a daughter of Midian here to Peckham," Job continued,
"we'll show her these very notes, and ask her what she thinks of such
dishonourable conduct. The Apostle's dying, that's clear; and before he
dies I warrant he shall know this treachery."
Paul could not stand that last threat. Though he had lost faith in the
Apostle as an Apostle, he could never forget the allegiance he had once
borne him as a father, or the spell which his powerful individuality had
once thrown around him as a teacher. To have embittered that man's dying
bed with the shadow of a terrible disappointment would be to Paul a
lifelong subject of deep remorse. "I did not intend to open my mouth in
answer to you, Mr. Grimshaw," he said (for the first time breaking
through the customary address of Brother), "but I pray you, I entreat
you, I beseech you, not to harass the Apostle in his last moments with
such a subject."
"Oh yes, I suppose so," Job Grimshaw answered maliciously, all the
ingrained coarseness of the man breaking out in the wrinkles of his
face. "No wonder you don't want him enlightened about your goings on
with the daughters of Midian, when you must know as well as I do that
his life ain't worth a day's purchase, and that he's a man of
independent means, and has left you every penny he's got in his will,
because he believes you're a fit successor to the Apostolate. I know it,
for I signed as a witness, and I read it through, being a short one,
while the other witness was signing. And you must know it as well as I
do. I suppose you don't think he'll make another will now; but there's
time enough to burn that one anyhow."
Paul Owen stood aghast at the vulgar baseness of which this lewd fellow
supposed him capable. He had never thought of it before; and yet it
flashed across his mind in a moment how obvious it was now. Of course
the Apostle would leave him his money. He was being educated for the
Apostolate, and the Apostolate could not be carried on without the
sinews of war. But that Job Grimshaw should think him guilty of angling
for the Apostle's money, and then throwing the Church overboard--the
bare notion of it was so horrible to him that he could not even hold up
his head to answer the taunt. He sat down and buried his crimson face
in his hands; and Job Grimshaw, taking up his hat sturdily, with the air
of a man who has to perform an unpleasant duty, left the meeting-room
abruptly without another word.
There was a gloomy Sunday dinner that morning in the mason's cottage,
and nobody seemed much inclined to speak in any way. But as they were in
the midst of their solemn meal, a neighbour who was also a Gideonite
came in hurriedly. "It's all over," he said, breathless--"all over with
us and with the Church. The Apostle is dead. He died this morning."
Margaret Owen found voice to ask, "Before Job Grimshaw saw him?"
The neighbour nodded, "Yes."
"Thank heaven for that!" cried Paul. "Then he did not die
"And you'll get his money," added the neighbour, "for I was the other
Paul drew a long breath. "I wish Meenie was here," he said. "I must see
her about this."
A few days later the Apostle was buried, and his will was read over
before the assembled Church. By earnest persuasion of his father, Paul
consented to be present, though he feared another humiliation from Job
Grimshaw. But two days before he had taken the law into his own hands,
by writing to Meenie, at her aunt's in Eaton Place; and that very
indiscreet young lady, in response, had actually consented to meet him
in Kensington Gardens alone the next afternoon. There he sat with her on
one of the benches by the Serpentine, and talked the whole matter over
with her to his heart's content.
"If the money is really left to me," he said, "I must in honour refuse
it. It was left to me to carry on the Apostolate, and I can't take it on
any other ground. But what ought I to do with it? I can't give it over
to the Church, for in three days there will be no Church left to give it
to. What shall I do with it?"
"Why," said Meenie, thoughtfully, "if I were you I should do this.
First, pay back everybody who contributed towards your support in full,
principal and interest; then borrow from the remainder as much as you
require to complete your Oxford course; and finally, pay back all that
and the other money to the fund when you are able, and hand it over for
the purpose of doing some good work in Peckham itself, where your Church
was originally founded. If the ideal can't be fulfilled, let the money
do something good for the actual."
"You are quite right, Meenie," said Paul, "except in one particular. I
will not borrow from the fund for my own support. I will not touch a
penny of it, temporarily or permanently, for myself in any way. If it
comes to me, I shall make it over to trustees at once for some good
object, as you suggest, and shall borrow from them five hundred pounds
to repay my own poor people, giving the trustees my bond to repay the
fund hereafter. I shall fight my own battle henceforth unaided."
"You will do as you ought to do, Paul, and I am proud of it."
So next morning, when the meeting took place, Paul felt somewhat happier
in his own mind as to the course he should pursue with reference to Job
The Senior Episcop opened and read the last will and testament of Arthur
Murgess, attorney-at-law. It provided in a few words that all his
estate, real and personal, should pass unreservedly to his friend, Paul
Owen, of Christchurch, Oxford. It was whispered about that, besides the
house and grounds, the personalty might be sworn at L8000, a vast sum to
those simple people.
When the reading was finished, Paul rose and addressed the assembly. He
told them briefly the plan he had formed, and insisted on his
determination that not a penny of the money should be put to his own
uses. He would face the world for himself, and thanks to their kindness
he could face it easily enough. He would still earn and pay back all
that he owed them. He would use the fund, first for the good of those
who had been members of the Church, and afterwards for the good of the
people of Peckham generally. And he thanked them from the bottom of his
heart for the kindness they had shown him.
Even Job Grimshaw could only mutter to himself that this was not
sperritual grace, but mere worldly pride and stubbornness, lest the lad
should betray his evil designs, which had thus availed him nothing. "He
has lost his own soul and wrecked the Church for the sake of the money,"
Job said, "and now he dassn't touch a farden of it."
Next John Owen rose and said slowly, "Friends, it seems to me we may as
well all confess that this Church has gone to pieces. I can't stop in it
myself any longer, for I see it's clear agin nature, and what's agin
nature can't be true." And though the assembly said nothing, it was
plain that there were many waverers in the little body whom the affairs
of the last week had shaken sadly in their simple faith. Indeed, as a
matter of fact, before the end of the month the Gideonite Church had
melted away, member by member, till nobody at all was left of the whole
assembly but Job Grimshaw.
"My dear," said the Rector to his wife a few weeks later, laying down
his Illustrated, "this is really a very curious thing. That young
fellow Owen, of Christchurch, that Meenie fancied herself engaged to,
has just come into a little landed property and eight or nine thousand
pounds on his own account. He must be better connected than Tom
imagines. Perhaps we might make inquiries about him after all."
The Rector did make inquiries in the course of the week, and with such
results that he returned to the rectory in blank amazement. "That
fellow's mad, Amelia," he said, "stark mad, if ever anybody was. The
leader of his Little Bethel, or Ebenezer, or whatever it may be, has
left him all his property absolutely, without conditions; and the idiot
of a boy declares he won't touch a penny of it, because he's ceased to
believe in their particular shibboleth, and he thinks the leader wanted
him to succeed him. Very right and proper of him, of course, to leave
the sect if he can't reconcile it with his conscience, but perfectly
Quixotic of him to give up the money and beggar himself outright. Even
if his connection was otherwise desirable (which it is far from being),
it would be absurd to think of letting Meenie marry such a ridiculous
Paul and Meenie, however, went their own way, as young people often
will, in spite of the Rector. Paul returned next term to Oxford,
penniless, but full of resolution, and by dint of taking pupils managed
to eke out his scholarship for the next year. At the end of that time he
took his first in Greats, and shortly after gained a fellowship. From
the very first day he began saving money to pay off that dead weight of
five hundred pounds. The kindly ex-Gideonites had mostly protested
against his repaying them at all, but in vain: Paul would not make his
entry into life, he said, under false pretences. It was a hard pull, but
he did it. He took pupils, he lectured, he wrote well and vigorously for
the press, he worked late and early with volcanic energy; and by the end
of three years he had not only saved the whole of the sum advanced by
the Gideonites, but had also begun to put away a little nest-egg
against his marriage with Meenie. And when the editor of a great morning
paper in London offered him a permanent place upon the staff, at a large
salary, he actually went down to Worcestershire, saw the formidable
Rector himself in his own parish, and demanded Meenie outright in
marriage. And the Rector observed to his wife that this young Owen
seemed a well-behaved and amiable young man; that after all one needn't
know anything about his relations if one didn't like; and that as Meenie
had quite made up her mind, and was as headstrong as a mule, there was
no use trying to oppose her any longer.
Down in Peckham, where Paul Owen lives, and is loved by half the poor of
the district, no one has forgotten who was the real founder of the
Murgess Institute, which does so much good in encouraging thrift, and is
so admirably managed by the founder and his wife. He would take a house
nowhere but at Peckham, he said. To the Peckham people he owed his
education, and for the Peckham people he would watch the working of his
little Institute. There is no better work being done anywhere in that
great squalid desert, the east and south-east of London; there is no
influence more magnetic than the founder's. John and Margaret Owen have
recovered their hopes for their boy, only they run now in another and
more feasible direction; and those who witness the good that is being
done by the Institute among the poor of Peckham, or who have read that
remarkable and brilliant economical work lately published on "The Future
of Co-operation in the East End, by P. O.," venture to believe that
Meenie was right after all, and that even the great social world itself
has not yet heard the last of young Paul Owen's lay apostolate.