“Don’t mind my weakness, Mr. Griffin. It is a weakness in me thus to take a stranger into my confidence in such a matter. But I feel that you alone have his confidence. You can’t realize what this thing has cost me, in peace. He was the last I should have suspected. I must save him. Help me do it. The Church is supposed to be hard-hearted, but she is forgiving—too forgiving sometimes. My duty is to be stern, and a judge; but I cannot judge him with sternness. I would give my life to think that this was all a bad dream. Don’t you see that he is the man I always thought would be my own bishop? How can I go to him—and hurt him?”
If Mark Griffin had had any misgivings about the character of the Bishop, they had vanished. He saw no bishop beside him, but only a man who in his heart of hearts had for years treasured a friendship and, in spite of everything, could not pluck it out. Now he had opened that heart to an utter stranger, trusting him as if snatching at every chance to save his sacred ideals, shrinking from inflicting pain himself as a surgeon would shrink from operating on his own father. Mark’s heart went out to the weeping man beside him.
But his own sorrow Mark resolved to keep to himself yet a little while. He was not ready to think out his own case. The sweet, compelling face of Ruth Atheson rose up before him to plead for herself. Who was she, this girl of mystery? His half-promised wife? A runaway duchess pledged to another man? A priest’s—God! that was too much. Mark clenched his hands to stifle a groan. Then he thought of Father Murray. Good and holy and pure he had seemed to be, a man among men, a priest above all. Surely there was an explanation somewhere. And he hesitated no longer to accede to the request of the Bishop who still, Mark felt, believed in his friend, and was hoping against hope for him.
“Here, Mr. Griffin, is my stop. You have been silent for fifteen minutes.” The Bishop’s voice was sad, as if Mark had refused to help.
“Was I silent so long? I did not know. There is something I cannot tell you yet that may bring you consolation. Some day I will tell you. In the meantime, trust me. I see no way now by which I can fully justify your faith in my efforts, but I will try. I promise you that I will try.”
So they parted, and Mark was driven back to Sihasset alone.
The Bishop prayed longer—much longer—than usual before he left the little church to join the priests who had gathered in the rectory after the ceremony.
AT THE MYSTERY TREE
All next day Mark Griffin wandered about brooding. Father Murray had returned to his old place in his thoughts. Distress had bred sympathy between the two, and instinctively Mark looked upon the priest as a friend; and, as a friend, he had cast doubt from his mind. There was an appointment to fill at Killimaga in the afternoon, an appointment to which Mark had looked forward with much joy; but he remembered the coldness of Ruth when he saw her in the church, and felt that he was not equal to meeting her, much as he longed to be in her presence. So he sent a note pleading sickness. It was not a lie, for there was a dull pain in both head and heart.