But . . . his church? He had forgotten it, or almost forgotten; and the recollection came upon him like a blow. He halted beneath a gas-lamp in dismay; not in resentment at the shattering of his dream, for he scarcely thought of himself; not in doubt, for he had done rightly, and his church could not be restored at the expense of right; but in sheer dismay before the blank certainty that now his church must fall. Nothing could save it. He must go home to it, live with it, watch it to the inevitable end. He put out a hand against the iron pillar, and of a sudden felt faint, almost sick. As a matter of fact, he had eaten nothing since his early breakfast.
A few doors down the street the bright lamp of a tavern—the Sword and Flag—caught his eye. He tottered in and asked for a glass of brandy. It did him good, and he called for another. Some soldiers entering, with a girl or two, and finding a clergyman seated with his glass in this not over-reputable den, began to chaff. He answered gently and good-naturedly, but with a slight stutter—enough to hint at fun ahead; and they improved upon the hint. By nine o’clock Parson Jack was silly drunk; at eleven, when the premises were closed, the police found him speechless; and the rest of the night he spent in the borough lock-up.
It appeared in the newspapers, of course. “Deplorable story: A clergyman fined for drunkenness.” This was more than even Sir Harry could stand.
“I’m sorry for you, Flood,” said he, when, three days later, Parson Jack appeared at Carwithiel to resign his living. “But you’ve taken the only proper course. Otherwise, you’d have driven us to an inquiry, sequestration, no end of a scandal. I’ve had to keep my eyes shut once or twice in the past, as you probably guess.”
“You have shown me all the kindness you could,” answered Parson Jack. “I won’t disgust you with thanks, and there are no excuses.” He picked up his hat and turned to go.
“Well, but look here; don’t be in a hurry. What about your prospects? They’re none too healthy, I’m afraid. Still, if a few pounds could give you a fresh start somewhere—”
“I have no prospects, but for the moment I wasn’t thinking of myself. I was thinking of Langona and the old church.”
“Oh, the church is all right! Clem—my nephew—has a fad in his head. He asked me yesterday for the living—in case you resigned. I tell him it’s folly; a youngster oughtn’t to play with his chances. But he insists that it will do him good to fling up Oxford and play parish-priest for a year or two. He has taken a fancy to your church, and wants to restore it. He can pay for his whims: the money’s all in his branch of the family.”
“Restore it! The church—restored!”
Sir Harry looked up sharply, for the words came in a whisper of awe, almost of terror; and looking up, he saw Parson Jack’s eyes dilated as a man’s who stares on a vision; but while they stared there grew in them a slow, beatific surmise.