Complete Project Gutenberg John Galsworthy Works eBook

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XI

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The last Sunday, sunny and bright!  Though he did not ask her to go, Gratian went to every Service that day.  And the sight of her, after this long interval, in their old pew, where once he had been wont to see his wife’s face, and draw refreshment therefrom, affected Pierson more than anything else.  He had told no one of his coming departure, shrinking from the falsity and suppression which must underlie every allusion and expression of regret.  In the last minute of his last sermon he would tell them!  He went through the day in a sort of dream.  Truly proud and sensitive, under this social blight, he shrank from all alike, made no attempt to single out supporters or adherents from those who had fallen away.  He knew there would be some, perhaps many, seriously grieved that he was going; but to try and realise who they were, to weigh them in the scales against the rest and so forth, was quite against his nature.  It was all or nothing.  But when for the last time of all those hundreds, he mounted the steps of his dark pulpit, he showed no trace of finality, did not perhaps even feel it yet.  For so beautiful a summer evening the congregation was large.  In spite of all reticence, rumour was busy and curiosity still rife.  The writers of the letters, anonymous and otherwise, had spent a week, not indeed in proclaiming what they had done, but in justifying to themselves the secret fact that they had done it.  And this was best achieved by speaking to their neighbours of the serious and awkward situation of the poor Vicar.  The result was visible in a better attendance than had been seen since summer-time began.

Pierson had never been a great preacher, his voice lacked resonance and pliancy, his thought breadth and buoyancy, and he was not free from, the sing-song which mars the utterance of many who have to speak professionally.  But he always made an impression of goodness and sincerity.  On this last Sunday evening he preached again the first sermon he had ever preached from that pulpit, fresh from the honeymoon with his young wife.  “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”  It lacked now the happy fervour of that most happy of all his days, yet gained poignancy, coming from so worn a face and voice.  Gratian, who knew that he was going to end with his farewell, was in a choke of emotion long before he came to it.  She sat winking away her tears, and not till he paused, for so long that she thought his strength had failed, did she look up.  He was leaning a little forward, seeming to see nothing; but his hands, grasping the pulpit’s edge, were quivering.  There was deep silence in the Church, for the look of his face and figure was strange, even to Gratian.  When his lips parted again to speak, a mist covered her eyes, and she lost sight of him.

“Friends, I am leaving you; these are the last words I shall ever speak in this place.  I go to other work.  You have been very good to me.  God has been very good to me.  I pray with my whole heart that He may bless you all.  Amen!  Amen!”

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