With what deftness she had induced her husband to make his spiritual ministrations indispensable to the tottering vitality of Lady Bray; with what cunning she herself had persuaded the old woman to be present at her garden parties over the last five years, though the poor creature was nothing but the head of death and the bones of decay, barely kept together by the common support of her clothes, it would be almost impossible to imagine. But to entertain Lady Bray; to be even a friend of her ladyship was, in Cailsham in those days, a key to the secret chamber of social success. And Mrs. Bishop held it.
The Rev. Samuel himself gave her ladyship a copy of the Holy Bible, bound in the best Russian leather, with various texts marked, which had never failed to bring her comfort when intoned in the meek monotony of his gentle voice. On the fly-leaf he had inscribed her name—Lady Bray, from her devoted friend and rector, Samuel Bishop.
On Sundays it was quite a feature of the Communion Service to see the state and ceremony with which the Holy Eucharist was carried down the aisle to the Bray’s family pew, where the old lady sat, huddled and alone in one of the corners, like a dead body covered clumsily with a black pall. One of the parishioners, who had not that good fortune of being personally acquainted with Lady Bray declared that she really almost objected to this invariable interruption of the service.
“I assure you,” she said, “it—it practically amounts to a procession like they have in the Roman Catholic Church.”
It was this lady who—whenever the occasion demanded, which was not often—bracketed in a breath Roman Catholics and unfortunate women of the street, and alluded to them jointly as—poor creatures.
To be able to say this, and feel that one is daring convention by one’s breadth of mind, is no uncommon standard of Christian intelligence.
But all this dutiful attention to Lady Bray availed the Rev. Samuel nothing. On the anvil of circumstances he was broken, as in the smithy the red-hot metal is bent and severed as though it were but clay.
After ten years’ faithful, if somewhat incompetent service, in the parish of Cailsham, the Rev. Samuel Bishop was requested to accept the chaplaincy at some distant Union. It was in this manner that his downfall came about.
It was Easter Sunday. The vicar of the little parish of Steynton, just outside Maidstone, was away for his holidays, and the Rev. Samuel Bishop had taken his place as locum tenens.
In the small church where the parishioners met every Sunday, it had been the custom for some time past for an earnest and well-known member of the congregation, who had an appreciation for the sound of his own voice, to read the lessons at Matins and at Evensong. This duty, combined with that of warden, was fulfilled by Mr. Windle, an ardent church-goer, a staunch, if somewhat narrow-visioned Christian, and a man rigid in his adherence to the cause of total abstinence.