“I know you’ve every right to say to me: ‘Mind your own business.’ But I made up my mind to come as a friend, hoping to save you from—er” he stammered, and began again: “I think you ought to know of the feeling in your parish that—er—that—er—your position is very delicate. Without breach of confidence I may tell you that letters have been sent to headquarters; you can imagine perhaps what I mean. Do believe, my dear friend, that I’m actuated by my old affection for you; nothing else, I do assure you.”
In the silence, his breathing could be heard, as of a man a little touched with asthma, while he continually smoothed his thick black knees, his whole face radiating an anxious kindliness. The sun shone brightly on those two black figures, so very different, and drew out of their well-worn garments the faint latent green mossiness which. underlies the clothes of clergymen.
At last Pierson said: “Thank you, Alec; I understand.”
The Canon uttered a resounding sigh. “You didn’t realise how very easily people misinterpret her being here with you; it seems to them a kind—a kind of challenge. They were bound, I think, to feel that; and I’m afraid, in consequence—” He stopped, moved by the fact that Pierson had closed his eyes.
“I am to choose, you mean, between my daughter and my parish?”
The Canon seemed, with a stammer of words, to try and blunt the edge of that clear question.
“My visit is quite informal, my dear fellow; I can’t say at all. But there is evidently much feeling; that is what I wanted you to know. You haven’t quite seen, I think, that—”
Pierson raised his hand. “I can’t talk of this.”
The Canon rose. “Believe me, Edward, I sympathise deeply. I felt I had to warn you.” He held out his hand. “Good-bye, my dear friend, do forgive me”; and he went out. In the hall an adventure befell him so plump, and awkward, that he could barely recite it to Mrs. Rushbourne that night.
“Coming out from my poor friend,” he said, “I ran into a baby’s perambulator and that young mother, whom I remember as a little thing”—he held his hand at the level of his thigh—“arranging it for going out. It startled me; and I fear I asked quite foolishly: ’Is it a boy?’ The poor young thing looked up at me. She has very large eyes, quite beautiful, strange eyes. ’Have you been speaking to Daddy about me?’ ‘My dear young lady,’ I said, ’I’m such an old friend, you see. You must forgive me.’ And then she said: ’Are they going to ask him to resign?’ ‘That depends on you,’ I said. Why do I say these things, Charlotte? I ought simply to have held my tongue. Poor young thing; so very young! And the little baby!” “She has brought it on herself, Alec,” Mrs, Rushbourne replied.