“Noel has gone down to George, and I want you to get transferred and go to them, Gracie. I’m giving up the parish and asking for a chaplaincy.”
“Giving up? After all this time? Is it because of Nollie?”
“No, I think not; I think the time has come. I feel my work here is barren.”
“Oh, no! And even if it is, it’s only because—”
Pierson smiled. “Because of what, Gracie?”
“Dad, it’s what I’ve felt in myself. We want to think and decide things for ourselves, we want to own our consciences, we can’t take things at second-hand any longer.”
Pierson’s face darkened. “Ah!” he said, “to have lost faith is a grievous thing.”
“We’re gaining charity,” cried Gratian.
“The two things are not opposed, my dear.”
“Not in theory; but in practice I think they often are. Oh, Dad! you look so tired. Have you really made up your mind? Won’t you feel lost?”
“For a little. I shall find myself, out there.”
But the look on his face was too much for Gratian’s composure, and she turned away.
Pierson went down to his study to write his letter of resignation. Sitting before that blank sheet of paper, he realised to the full how strongly he had resented the public condemnation passed on his own flesh and blood, how much his action was the expression of a purely mundane championship of his daughter; of a mundane mortification. ‘Pride,’ he thought. ‘Ought I to stay and conquer it?’ Twice he set his pen down, twice took it up again. He could not conquer it. To stay where he was not wanted, on a sort of sufferance—never! And while he sat before that empty sheet of paper he tried to do the hardest thing a man can do—to see himself as others see him; and met with such success as one might expect—harking at once to the verdicts, not of others at all, but of his own conscience; and coming soon to that perpetual gnawing sense which had possessed him ever since the war began, that it was his duty to be dead. This feeling that to be alive was unworthy of him when so many of his flock had made the last sacrifice, was reinforced by his domestic tragedy and the bitter disillusionment it had brought. A sense of having lost caste weighed on him, while he sat there with his past receding from him, dusty and unreal. He had the queerest feeling of his old life falling from him, dropping round his feet like the outworn scales of a serpent, rung after rung of tasks and duties performed day after day, year after year. Had they ever been quite real? Well, he had shed them now, and was to move out into life illumined by the great reality-death! And taking up his pen, he wrote his resignation.