MR. DRAKE’S ARBOR.
While the curate was preaching that same Sunday morning, in the cool cavernous church, with its great lights overhead, Walter Drake—the old minister, he was now called by his disloyal congregation—sat in a little arbor looking out on the river that flowed through the town to the sea. Green grass went down from where he sat to the very water’s brink. It was a spot the old man loved, for there his best thoughts came to him. There was in him a good deal of the stuff of which poets are made, and since trouble overtook him, the river had more and more gathered to itself the aspect of that in the Pilgrim’s Progress; and often, as he sat thus almost on its edge, he fancied himself waiting the welcome summoms to go home. It was a tidal river, with many changes. Now it flowed with a full, calm current, conquering the tide, like life sweeping death with it down into the bosom of the eternal. Now it seemed to stand still, as if aghast at the inroad of the awful thing; and then the minister would bethink himself that it was the tide of the eternal rising in the narrow earthly channel: men, he said to himself, called it death, because they did not know what it was, or the loveliness of its quickening energy. It fails on their sense by the might of its grand excess, and they call it by the name of its opposite. A weary and rather disappointed pilgrim, he thus comforted himself as he sat.
There a great salmon rose and fell, gleaming like a bolt of silver in the sun! There a little waterbeetle scurried along after some invisible prey. The blue smoke of his pipe melted in the Sabbath air. The softened sounds of a singing congregation came across gardens and hedges to his ear. They sang with more energy than grace, and, not for the first time, he felt they did. Were they indeed singing to the Lord, he asked himself, or only to the idol Custom? A silence came: the young man in the pulpit was giving out his text, and the faces that had turned themselves up to Walter Drake as flowers to the sun, were now all turning to the face of him they had chosen in his stead, “to minister to them in holy things.” He took his pipe from his mouth, and sat motionless, with his eyes fixed on the ground.
But why was he not at chapel himself? Could it be that he yielded to temptation, actually preferring his clay pipe and the long glide of the river, to the worship, and the hymns and the sermon? Had there not been a time when he judged that man careless of the truth who did not go to the chapel, and that man little better who went to the church? Yet there he sat on a Sunday morning, the church on one side of him and the chapel on the other, smoking his pipe! His daughter was at the chapel; she had taken Ducky with her; the dog lay in the porch waiting for them; the cat thought too much of herself to make friends with her master; he had forgotten his New Testament on the study table; and now he had let his pipe out.