Father Rowley’s shoulders filled up all the space of the window, so that Mark only heard scattered fragments of the conversation, which was mostly about Silchester and the Siltonians he had hoped to see at Oxford.
“Good-bye, my dear man, good-bye,” the Missioner shouted, as the train moved out of the station. “Come down and see us soon at Chatsea. The more of you men who come, the more we shall be pleased.”
Mark’s heart leapt at these words, which seemed of good omen to his own suit. When Father Rowley was ensconced in his corner and once more puffing away at his pipe, Mark thought how ridiculous it would sound to say that he had heard him preach last night at St. Barnabas’ and that, having been much moved by the sermon, he was anxious to be taken on at St. Agnes’ as a lay helper. He wished that Father Rowley would make some remark to him that would lead up to his request, but all that Father Rowley said was:
“This is a slow train to Birmingham, isn’t it?”
This led to a long conversation about trains, and slow though this one might be it was going much too fast for Mark, who would be at Shipcot in another twenty minutes without having taken any advantage of his lucky encounter.
“Are you up at Oxford?” the priest at last inquired.
It was now or never; and Mark took the opportunity given him by that one question to tell Father Rowley twenty disjointed facts about his life, which ended with a request to be allowed to come and work at Chatsea.
“You can come and see us whenever you like,” said the Missioner.
“But I don’t want just to come and pay a visit,” said Mark. “I really do want to be given something to do, and I shan’t be any expense. I only want to keep enough money to go to Glastonbury in four years’ time. If you’d only see how I got on for a month. I don’t pretend I can be of any help to you. I don’t suppose I can. But I do so tremendously want you to help me.”
“Who did you say your father was?”
“Lidderdale, James Lidderdale. He was priest-in-charge of the Lima Street Mission, which belonged to St. Simon’s, Notting Hill, in those days. St. Wilfred’s, Notting Dale, it is now.”
“Lidderdale,” Father Rowley echoed. “I knew him. I knew him well. Lima Street. Viner’s there now, a dear good fellow. So you’re Lidderdale’s son?”
“I say, here’s my station,” Mark exclaimed in despair, “and you haven’t said whether I can come or not.”
“Come down on Tuesday week,” said Father Rowley. “Hurry up, or you’ll get carried on to the next station.”
Mark waved his farewell, and he knew, as he drove back on the omnibus over the rolling wold to Wych that he had this morning won something much better than a scholarship at St. Osmund’s Hall.
When Mark had been exactly a week at Chatsea he celebrated his eighteenth birthday by writing a long letter to the Rector of Wych: