Levi Gorringe shook his head. He leaned back, half closed his eyes, put his finger-tips together, and almost smiled as if something in retrospect pleased and moved him.
“No,” he said; “I went to the church first to see a girl who used to go there. It was long before your time. All her family moved away years ago. You wouldn’t know any of them. I was younger then, and I didn’t know as much as I do now. I worshipped the very ground that girl walked on, and like a fool I never gave her so much as a hint of it. Looking back now, I can see that I might have had her if I’d asked her. But I went instead and sat around and looked at her at church and Sunday-school and prayer-meetings Thursday nights, and class-meetings after the sermon. She was devoted to religion and church work; and, thinking it would please her, I joined the church on probation. Men can fool themselves easier than they can other people. I actually believed at the time that I had experienced religion. I felt myself full of all sorts of awakenings of the soul and so forth. But it was really that girl. You see I’m telling you the thing just as it was. I was very happy. I think it was the happiest time of my life. I remember there was a love-feast while I was on probation; and I sat down in front, right beside her, and we ate the little square chunks of bread and drank the water together, and I held one corner of her hymn-book when we stood up and sang. That was the nearest I ever got to her, or to full membership in the church. That very next week, I think it was, we learned that she had got engaged to the minister’s son—a young man who had just become a minister himself. They got married, and went away—and I—somehow I never took up my membership when the six months’ probation was over. That’s how it was.”
“It is very interesting,” remarked Theron, softly, after a little silence—“and very full of human nature.”
“Well, now you see,” said the lawyer, “what I mean when I say that there hasn’t been another minister here since, that I should have felt like telling this story to. They wouldn’t have understood it at all. They would have thought it was blasphemy for me to say straight out that what I took for experiencing religion was really a girl. But you are different. I felt that at once, the first time I saw you. In a pulpit or out of it, what I like in a human being is that he should be human.”
“It pleases me beyond measure that you should like me, then” returned the young minister, with frank gratification shining on his face. “The world is made all the sweeter and more lovable by these—these elements of romance. I am not one of those who would wish to see them banished or frowned upon. I don’t mind admitting to you that there is a good deal in Methodism—I mean the strict practice of its letter which you find here in Octavius—that is personally distasteful to me. I read the other day of an English bishop who said boldly, publicly, that no modern nation could practise the principles laid down in the Sermon on the Mount and survive for twenty-four hours.”