The Altar Steps eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 477 pages of information about The Altar Steps.

Mark was overcome with a desire to laugh at the stilted way in which he was talking, and, from the suppression of the desire, to laugh wildly at everything in the scene, and not least at the comic death of Will Starling, even at the corpse itself lying with a broken neck at his feet.  By an effort of will he regained control of his muscles, and the tension of the last half hour finding no relief in bodily relaxation was stamped ineffaceably upon his mind to take its place with that afternoon in his father’s study at the Lima Street Mission which first inspired him with dread of the sexual relation of man to woman, a dread that was now made permanent by what he had endured on the bough of that yew-tree.

Thanks to Mark’s intervention the business was explained without scandal; nobody doubted that the squire of Rushbrooke Grange died a martyr to his dislike of ivy’s encroaching upon ancient images.  Esther’s stormy soul took refuge in a convent, and there it seemed at peace.



The encounter between Esther and Will Starling had the effect of strengthening Mark’s intention to be celibate.  He never imagined himself as a possible protagonist in such a scene; but the impression of that earlier encounter between his mother and father which gave him a horror of human love was now renewed.  It was renewed, moreover, with the light of a miracle to throw it into high relief.  And this miracle could not be explained away as a coincidence, but was an old-fashioned miracle that required no psychical buttressing, a hard and fast miracle able to withstand any criticism.  It was a pity that out of regard for Esther he could not publish it for the encouragement of the faithful and the confusion of the unbelievers.

The miracle of St. Mary Magdalene’s intervention on his seventeenth birthday was the last violent impression of Mark’s boyhood.  Thenceforward life moved placidly through the changing weeks of a country calendar until the date of the scholarship examination held by the group of colleges that contained St. Mary’s, the college he aspired to enter, but for which he failed to win even an exhibition.  Mr. Ogilvie was rather glad, for he had been worried how Mark was going to support himself for three or four years at an expensive college like St. Mary’s.  But when Mark was no more successful with another group of colleges, his tutors began to be alarmed, wondering if their method of teaching Latin and Greek lacked the tradition of the public school necessary to success.

“Oh, no, it’s obviously my fault,” said Mark.  “I expect I go to pieces in examinations, or perhaps I’m not intended to go to Oxford.”

“I beg you, my dear boy,” said the Rector a little irritably, “not to apply such a loose fatalism to your career.  What will you do if you don’t go to the University?”

“It’s not absolutely essential for a priest to have been to the University,” Mark argued.

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The Altar Steps from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.