One day that summer, I came away from a luncheon in company of an old College chum. Always exciting to meet those one hasn’t seen for years; and as we walked across the Park together I kept looking at him askance. He had altered a good deal. Lean he always was, but now very lean, and so upright that his parson’s coat was overhung by the back of his long and narrow head, with its dark grizzled hair, which thought had not yet loosened on his forehead. His clean-shorn face, so thin and oblong, was remarkable only for the eyes: dark-browed and lashed, and coloured like bright steel, they had a fixity in them, a sort of absence, on one couldn’t tell what business. They made me think of torture. And his mouth always gently smiling, as if its pinched curly sweetness had been commanded, was the mouth of a man crucified—yes, crucified!
Tramping silently over the parched grass, I felt that if we talked, we must infallibly disagree; his straight-up, narrow forehead so suggested a nature divided within itself into compartments of iron.
It was hot that day, and we rested presently beside the Serpentine. On its bright waters were the usual young men, sculling themselves to and fro with their usual sad energy, the usual promenaders loitering and watching them, the usual dog that swam when it did not bark, and barked when it did not swim; and my friend sat smiling, twisting between his thin fingers the little gold cross on his silk vest.
Then all of a sudden we did begin to talk; and not of those matters of which the well-bred naturally converse—the habits of the rarer kinds of ducks, and the careers of our College friends, but of something never mentioned in polite society.
At lunch our hostess had told me the sad story of an unhappy marriage, and I had itched spiritually to find out what my friend, who seemed so far away from me, felt about such things. And now I determined to find out.
“Tell me,” I asked him, “which do you consider most important—the letter or the spirit of Christ’s teachings?”
“My dear fellow,” he answered gently, “what a question! How can you separate them?”
“Well, is it not the essence of His doctrine that the spirit is all important, and the forms of little value? Does not that run through all the Sermon on the Mount?”
“If, then,” I said, “Christ’s teaching is concerned with the spirit, do you consider that Christians are justified in holding others bound by formal rules of conduct, without reference to what is passing in their spirits?”
“If it is for their good.”
“What enables you to decide what is for their good?”
“Surely, we are told.”
“Not to judge, that ye be not judged.”
“Oh! but we do not, ourselves, judge; we are but impersonal ministers of the rules of God.”