I like the recognised relations between the Archdeacon and women. They are more than avuncular and less than cousinly; they are tender without being romantic, and confiding without being burdensome. He has the private entree at chhoti hazri, or early breakfast; he sees loose and flowing robes that are only for esoteric disciples; he has the private entree at five o’clock tea and hears plans for the evening campaign openly discussed. He is quite behind the scenes. He hears the earliest whispers of engagements and flirtations. He can give a stone to the Press Commissioner in the gossip handicap, and win in a canter. You cannot tell him anything he does not know already.
Whenever the Government of India has a merrymaking, he is out on the trail. At Delhi he was in the thick of the mummery, beaming on barbaric princes and paynim princesses, blessing banners, blessing trumpeters, blessing proclamations, blessing champagne and truffles, blessing pretty girls, and blessing the conjunction of planets that had placed his lines in such pleasant places. His tight little cob, his perfect riding kit, his flowing beard, and his pleasant smile were the admiration of all the Begums and Nabobs that had come to the fair. The Government of India took such delight in him that they gave him a gold medal and a book.
With the inferior clergy the Archdeacon is not at his ease. He cannot respect the little ginger-bread gods of doctrine they make for themselves; he cannot worship at their hill altars; their hocus-pocus and their crystallised phraseology fall dissonantly on his ear; their talk of chasubles and stoles, eastern attitude, and all the rest of it, is to him as a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing. He would like to see the clergy merely scholars and men of sense set apart for the conduct of divine worship and the encouragement of all good and kindly offices to their neighbours; he does not wish to see them mediums and conjurors. He thinks that in a heathen country their paltry fetishism of misbegotten notions and incomprehensible phrases is peculiarly offensive and injurious to the interests of civilisation and Christianity. Of course the Archdeacon may be very much mistaken in all this; and it is this generous consciousness of fallibility which gives the singular charm to his religious attitude. He can take off his ecclesiastical spectacles and perceive that he may be in the wrong like other men.
Let us take a last look at the Archdeacon, for in the whole range of prominent Anglo-Indian characters our eye will not rest upon a more orbicular and satisfactory figure.
A good Archdeacon, nobly planned
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a spirit gay and bright,
With something of the candle-light.
WITH THE SECRETARY TO GOVERNMENT