The entire congregation was now silent, so silent that the uncertain splashing of my feet as I descended seemed to deafen one. Mr. S., a little embarrassed by my short stature, succeeded at length in securing me with one palm on my chest and the other between my shoulders. He said, slowly, in a loud, sonorous voice that seemed to enter my brain and empty it, ’I baptize thee, my Brother, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost!’ Having intoned this formula, he then gently flung me backwards until I was wholly under the water, and then—as he brought me up again, and tenderly steadied my feet on the steps of the font, and delivered me, dripping and spluttering, into the anxious hands of the women, who hurried me to the tent—the whole assembly broke forth in a thunder of song, a paean of praise to God for this manifestation of his marvellous goodness and mercy. So great was the enthusiasm, that it could hardly be restrained so as to allow the other candidates, the humdrum adults who followed in my wet and glorious footsteps, to undergo a ritual about which, in their case, no one in the congregation pretended to be able to take even the most languid interest.
My Father’s happiness during the next few weeks it is not pathetic to me to look back upon. His sternness melted into a universal complaisance. He laughed and smiled, he paid to my opinions the tribute of the gravest considerations, he indulged— utterly unlike his wont—in shy and furtive caresses. I could express no wish that he did not attempt to fulfill, and the only warning which he cared to give me was one, very gently expressed, against spiritual pride.
This was certainly required, for I was puffed out with a sense of my own holiness. I was religiously confidential with my Father, condescending with Miss Marks (who I think had given up trying to make it all out), haughty with the servants, and insufferably patronizing with those young companions of my own age with whom I was now beginning to associate.
I would fain close this remarkable episode on a key of solemnity, but alas! If I am to be loyal to the truth, I must record that some of the other little boys presently complained to Mary Grace that I put out my tongue at them in mockery, during the service in the Room, to remind them that I now broke bread as one of the Saints and that they did not.
THE result of my being admitted into the communion of the ‘Saints’ was that, as soon as the nine days’ wonder of the thing passed by, my position became, if anything, more harassing and pressed than ever. It is true that freedom was permitted to me in certain directions; I was allowed to act a little more on my own responsibility, and was not so incessantly informed what ’the Lord’s will’ might be in this matter and in that, because it was now conceived that, in such dilemmas, I could command private intelligence of my own. But there was no relaxation of our rigid manner of life, and I think I now began, by comparing it with the habits of others, to perceive how very strict it was.