Once more he looked at his watch. They were actually sitting down to dinner now. He walked down the floor of the vestry and back again, and his steps were quite steady; so he took another sip. Then he breathed into his open hand held up against his face—as he had once seen an undergraduate do at Oxford—but he could detect no perfume of the wine in his breath. Possibly it would be all right. And he was looking forward so intensely to meeting the bishop. He felt that he would be able to convince him of the need for his little alterations.
Once again he looked into the cup. Then he finished the wine at a draught—elbow tilted at an angle on a level with his head—and hurriedly put the chalice away.
It was done now. And he felt quite all right. He began to take off his surplice, and when he trod on the end of it and stumbled a little, it seemed quite a natural accident. He smiled—laughed even, but very gently—at the fears he had entertained. Evidently he must have a very good head to be able to take so much wine. His hat dropped from his hand as he was raising it to his head; but that was nothing. It was quite a simple thing to stoop and pick it up again. If a man were intoxicated he could not do that. He would probably fall. Mr. Bishop only knocked his elbow against the vestry table as he stood upright.
He looked round the room. Was everything put away? What a delightful service that was at morning prayer on Easter day. It was quite true what he had said in his sermon—this was a day of promise, of good hope. He felt that within himself.
Ah! the cupboard that contained the bottle of wine had not been locked. He walked across to it, quite steadily, perhaps a little slowly. The bottle was there all right. How much had they used of it? He remembered that it had been full to the base of the neck. Now? He took it out and looked at it. It was more than half empty! He had practically consumed half a bottle of strongly intoxicating wine! How could he be sober? He laughed. He heard the laugh within himself, as though he were standing by, a spectator to his own actions. Then he knew he was drunk. He said so—to himself—aloud.
At that instant the door of the vestry opened, and in walked Mr. Windle, followed by the bishop. They saw him there, standing with gently swaying movements by the cupboard, with the black bottle of wine in his hands.
“Mr. Bishop,” said the warden, “I have brought his lordship to your assistance. I could find no one on my way home.”
The Rev. Samuel put down the bottle and bowed uncertainly.
“I’m afraid it’s too late,” he said humbly.
The two men looked at him with growing suspicion, then his lordship said in austere tones, “So I should imagine, Mr. Bishop.” He turned to his companion. “Shall we get back to dinner, Mr. Windle?”
They moved to the vestry door.