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Title: The Priest And The Acolyte - With an Introductory Protest by Stuart Mason
Author: Bloxam, John Francis
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE PRIEST AND THE ACOLYTE



  THE
  PRIEST
  AND
  THE
  ACOLYTE


              WITH AN
              INTRODUCTORY
              PROTEST BY
              STUART MASON


  LONDON: AT THE LOTUS PRESS
  NINETEEN HUNDRED AND SEVEN



So many copies of “The Priest and the Acolyte” have been sold by
unscrupulous publishers and booksellers under the implication that it
is the work of Oscar Wilde that it has been thought good to issue this
edition with the object of putting an end, once and for all, to the
possibility of purchasers being misled as to the authorship.

The story was originally published in _The Chameleon_, the first and
only number of which appeared in December, 1894. The author of the
story was an undergraduate at Oxford, “an insufficiently birched
schoolboy,” as he has recently been described, and he alone was
responsible for the contents of the magazine which he edited. At the
time of the trial of Lord Queensberry for libel a few months later it
was attempted to show that Oscar Wilde not only approved of the theme
of the story, but that he was actually a party to the publication of
it, on the grounds that he sent to the editor a number of aphorisms
under the title of “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the
Young.”

The simplest way of showing what Oscar Wilde really thought of the
story is to quote what he said when examined in Court on the subject.

John Sholto Douglas, Eighth Marquis of Queensberry, was arrested on
a warrant on March 1, 1895, on a charge of uttering a criminal libel
against Oscar Wilde. On the following morning he was brought up before
Mr. Newton at Marlborough Street Police Court, and after some formal
evidence had been taken was remanded on bail for a week, and on the
second hearing was formally committed to take his trial at the Central
Criminal Court a few weeks later.

The trial began at the Old Bailey on Wednesday, April 3, before
Mr. Justice Henn Collins. Sir Edward Clarke, Q.C., M.P., Mr. Charles
Mathews and Mr. Travers Humphreys appeared for the prosecution;
Mr. Carson, Q.C., M.P., Mr. C. F. Gill and Mr. A. Gill being for the
defence.

The court was crowded. The Marquis was the first to arrive. He came in
alone, and stood, hat in hand, in front of the dock. He spoke to no
one, and no one spoke to him. There was little that was aristocratic
in the Marquis’s appearance. He was of short stature, with a round
face, and clean shaven except for a streak of red whisker. His lower
lip drooped considerably. A few minutes before half-past ten,
Mr. Oscar Wilde entered the court and took a seat immediately in
front of his Counsel, with whom he at once joined in an animated
conversation.

The Judge was ten minutes late, but (the Marquis having entered the
dock) the preliminary proceedings were soon got through, and at a
quarter to eleven, Sir Edward Clarke began his speech for the
prosecution. Everybody listened attentively to the story, as set
forth by Counsel, of the prosecutor’s achievements at college, his
subsequent success as a littérateur, and the circumstances under
which he became acquainted with the defendant’s family. “Phrases and
Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” which Oscar Wilde contributed
to _The Chameleon_, was mentioned in the plea of the defence as
“immoral and obscene,” and Sir Edward Clarke occupied some time in
an endeavour to prove the contrary. With regard to _The Chameleon_,
Counsel admitted that it contained a story entitled “The Priest and
the Acolyte,” which could not be justified, but he declared his client
could not be held responsible for the publication as a whole, he being
but a contributor to its pages. As a matter of fact, Mr. Wilde urged
upon the editor that the book should be withdrawn.

Soon after Mr. Carson began his cross-examination, it became apparent
that the line he was adopting would result in a conflict between
Counsel. Mr. Wilde was being questioned as to his opinion on certain
extracts from “The Priest and the Acolyte,” when Sir Edward Clarke
jumped to his feet and appealed to the Judge whether the questions
were relevant, inasmuch as Mr. Wilde was not responsible for the
story. The Judge ruled in favour of Mr. Carson. Sir Edward, a few
minutes later, raised another objection, but he was again overruled.

The interval for luncheon came as a pleasant relief to all, and, on
the application of Mr. Carson, the Judge consented to the defendant
being allowed his freedom till the court resumed its sitting.

Sir Edward Clarke, in the course of his speech for the prosecution,
said that there were two extremely curious counts at the end of the
plea. One was that in December, 1894, was “published a certain immoral
work in the form of _The Chameleon_, relating to practices and
passions of an unnatural kind,” and that his client had “joined in
procuring the publication of _The Chameleon_, with his name upon it as
the principal contributor.” That was a very gross allegation. Directly
Mr. Wilde saw the magazine, he noticed there was a story in it called
“The Priest and the Acolyte,” which was a disgrace to literature,
which it was amazing any body wrote, and still more amazing that any
body allowed to be published under his name.[1] Directly Mr. Wilde
saw that story he communicated with the editor, and upon his
insistence the magazine was withdrawn. He had no knowledge that that
story was about to be published. It was strange indeed, then, to find
that publication put upon the particulars as justifying the charge
against Mr. Wilde.

  [Footnote 1: Sir Edward Clarke was in error. The story was
  published anonymously, being signed “X” only, though the author’s
  real name was more or less an open secret in Oxford at the time.]

In his examination in chief, Sir Edward Clarke said: It is suggested
that you are responsible for the publication of _The Chameleon_ on the
front page of which some aphorisms of yours appear. Beyond sending
that contribution had you any thing to do with the preparation or
ownership, editorship or publication of that magazine?

Witness—No; nothing whatever.

Until you saw this number of _The Chameleon_ did you know any thing
about the story, “The Priest and the Acolyte”?

Nothing at all.

Upon seeing the story in print, did you communicate with the editor?

The editor came to see me at the Café Royal to speak to me about it.

Did you approve of the story of “The Priest and the Acolyte”?

I thought it bad and indecent, and I strongly disapproved of it.

Was that disapproval expressed to the editor?

Yes.

Oscar Wilde was then cross-examined by Mr. Carson for the defence.

You read “The Priest and the Acolyte”?

Yes.

You have no doubt that that was an improper story?

From the literary point of view it was highly improper. It is
impossible for a man of literature to judge it otherwise, by
literature meaning treatment, selection of subject, and the like.
I thought the treatment rotten and the subject rotten.

You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an
immoral book?

Yes.

May I take it that you think “The Priest and the Acolyte” was not
immoral?

It was worse; it was badly written.

Was not the story that of a priest who fell in love with a boy who
served him at the altar, and the boy was discovered in the priest’s
room, and a scandal arose?

I have read it only once, in November last, and nothing will induce
me to read it again.

Did you think the story blasphemous?

I think it violated every artistic canon of beauty.

That is not an answer.

It is the only one I can give.

I want you to see the position you pose in.

I do not think you should say that.

I have said nothing out of the way. I wish to know whether you thought
the story blasphemous.

The story filled me with disgust.

Answer the question, sir. Did you, or did you not, consider the story
blasphemous?

I did not consider the story blasphemous.

I am satisfied with that. You know that when the priest in the story
administers poison to the boy he uses the words of the Sacrament of
the Church of England?

That I entirely forgot.

Do you consider that blasphemous?

I think it is horrible. “Blasphemous” is not the word.

Mr. Carson then read the words describing the administration of the
poison in the Sacrament, and asked Mr. Wilde whether he approved of
them.

The witness replied that he thought them disgusting, perfect twaddle.

I think you will admit that any one who would approve of such an
article would pose as guilty of improper practices?

I do not think so in the person of another contributor to the
magazine. It would show very bad literary taste. I strongly objected
to the whole story. I took no steps to express public disapproval of
_The Chameleon_, because I think it would have been beneath my dignity
as a man of letters to associate myself with an Oxford undergraduate’s
productions. I am aware that the magazine might have been circulated
among the undergraduates of Oxford, but I do not believe that any book
or work of art ever had any effect whatever on morality.

Am I right in saying that you do not consider the effect in creating
morality or immorality?

Certainly, I do not.

So far as your own works are concerned you pose as not being
concerned about morality or immorality?

I do not know whether you use the word “pose” in any particular sense.

It is a favourite word of your own.

Is it? I have no pose in this matter. In writing a play or a book I am
concerned entirely with literature, that is, with art. I aim not at
doing good or evil but in trying to make a thing that will have some
quality of beauty.

What would any body say would be the effect of “Phrases and
Philosophies for the Use of the Young” taken in connection with such
an article as “The Priest and the Acolyte”?

Undoubtedly, it was the idea that might be formed that made me object
so strongly to the story. I saw at once that maxims that were
perfectly nonsensical, paradoxical or any thing you like, might be
read in conjunction with it.

On Tuesday, April 30, which was the fourth day of the first trial of
Oscar Wilde, Sir Edward Clarke entered an emphatic protest against
Mr. Gill having read over again the cross-examination of the accused
upon his books and writings which he had given at the trial of Lord
Queensberry. It was not fair to judge of a man’s conduct by his books,
but the Prosecution had gone much further than that, and had sought to
judge Wilde by books which he did not write, and by a story which he
had repudiated as horrible and disgusting. Public opinion had been
excited and fanned by the quotation in Court of passages of literature
for which he was not responsible.

The subject then dropped, and the next reference to it was made by
Mr. Justice Charles in his summing up on the last day of Oscar Wilde’s
first trial (May 1) when the Jury disagreed and was unable to return
a verdict. His lordship said that he did not propose to deal at any
length with the incidents of the Queensberry trial, but that it must
be remembered that the evidence of Wilde at that trial was given on
oath and must not be lost sight of in considering that which he had
given the previous day or two in that Court. A very large portion of
the evidence of Wilde at the Queensberry trial was devoted to what
Sir Edward Clarke had called “the literary part of the case,” and it
had been attempted to show by cross-examination that Wilde was a man
of most unprincipled character with regard to the relation of men to
boys. In regard to a magazine called _The Chameleon_, published in the
autumn of 1894, it was alleged that Wilde had given the sanction of
his name to the most abominable doctrines, but the only connection
proved between that magazine and the defendant was that it was
prefaced by two or three pages of aphorisms by the accused, of which
it was sufficient to say that some were amusing, some cynical, some,
if his lordship might be allowed to criticize, silly; but wicked, no.

The learned Counsel who represented Lord Queensberry, the Judge
continued, had called attention to a story, a filthy narrative of a
most disgusting character, called “The Priest and the Acolyte,” of
which the author, who signed himself “X,” should be thoroughly
ashamed. With that story Wilde had had nothing whatever to do, and
to impute to him any thing in it was quite absurd. To judge him by
another man’s works which he had never seen would be highly unjust.

In the second trial of Oscar Wilde, which was heard before Mr. Justice
Willis on the following May 22 to 25, no mention was made of _The
Chameleon_ or of “The Priest and the Acolyte.”

What is stated above ought to be sufficient, once and for all, to
dissociate the name of the author of “Salomé” and “Lady Windermere’s
Fan” from the story reprinted in the following pages.



THE PRIEST AND THE ACOLYTE

_Honi soit qui mal y pense_


PART I

“Pray, father, give me thy blessing, for I have sinned.”

The priest started; he was tired in mind and body; his soul was
sad and his heart heavy as he sat in the terrible solitude of the
confessional ever listening to the same dull round of oft-repeated
sins. He was weary of the conventional tones and matter-of-fact
expressions. Would the world always be the same? For nearly twenty
centuries the Christian priests had sat in the confessional and
listened to the same old tale. The world seemed to him no better;
always the same, the same. The young priest sighed to himself, and
for a moment almost wished people would be worse. Why could they not
escape from these old wearily-made paths and be a little original in
their vices, if sin they must? But the voice he now listened to
aroused him from his reverie. It was so soft and gentle, so diffident
and shy.

He gave the blessing, and listened. Ah, yes! he recognized the voice
now. It was the voice he had heard for the first time only that very
morning: the voice of the little acolyte that had served his Mass.

He turned his head and peered through the grating at the little bowed
head beyond. There was no mistaking those long soft curls. Suddenly,
for one moment, the face was raised, and the large moist blue eyes
met his; he saw the little oval face flushed with shame at the simple
boyish sins he was confessing, and a thrill shot through him, for he
felt that here at least was something in the world that was beautiful,
something that was really true. Would the day come when those soft
scarlet lips would have grown hard and false? when the soft shy treble
would have become careless and conventional? His eyes filled with
tears, and in a voice that had lost its firmness he gave the
absolution.

After a pause, he heard the boy rise to his feet, and watched him wend
his way across the little chapel and kneel before the altar while he
said his penance. The priest hid his thin tired face in his hands and
sighed wearily. The next morning, as he knelt before the altar and
turned to say the words of confession to the little acolyte whose head
was bent so reverently towards him, he bowed low till his hair just
touched the golden halo that surrounded the little face, and he felt
his veins burn and tingle with a strange new fascination.

When that most wonderful thing in the whole world, complete
soul-absorbing love for another, suddenly strikes a man, that man
knows what heaven means, and he understands hell: but if the man be
an ascetic, a priest whose whole heart is given to ecstatic devotion,
it were better for that man if he had never been born.

When they reached the vestry and the boy stood before him reverently
receiving the sacred vestments, he knew that henceforth the entire
devotion of his religion, the whole ecstatic fervour of his prayers,
would be connected with, nay, inspired by, one object alone. With the
same reverence and humility as he would have felt in touching the
consecrated elements he laid his hands on the curl-crowned head, he
touched the small pale face, and, raising it slightly, he bent forward
and gently touched the smooth white brow with his lips.

When the child felt the caress of his fingers, for one moment every
thing swam before his eyes; but when he felt the light touch of the
tall priest’s lips, a wonderful assurance took possession of him: he
understood. He raised his little arms, and, clasping his slim white
fingers around the priest’s neck kissed him on the lips. With a sharp
cry the priest fell upon his knees, and, clasping the little figure
clad in scarlet and lace to his heart, he covered the tender flushing
face with burning kisses. Then suddenly there came upon them both a
quick sense of fear; they parted hastily, with hot trembling fingers
folded the sacred vestments, and separated in silent shyness.

       *       *       *       *       *

The priest returned to his poor rooms and tried to sit down and think,
but all in vain: he tried to eat, but could only thrust away his plate
in disgust: he tried to pray, but instead of the calm figure on the
cross, the calm, cold figure with the weary, weary face, he saw
continually before him the flushed face of a lovely boy, the wide
star-like eyes of his new-found love.

All that day the young priest went through the round of his various
duties mechanically, but he could not eat nor sit quiet, for when
alone, strange shrill bursts of song kept thrilling through his brain,
and he felt that he must flee out into the open air or go mad.

At length, when night came, and the long, hot day had left him
exhausted and worn out, he threw himself on his knees before his
crucifix and compelled himself to think.

He called to mind his boyhood and his early youth; there returned to
him the thought of the terrible struggles of the last five years.
Here he knelt, Ronald Heatherington, priest of Holy Church, aged
twenty-eight: what he had endured during these five years of fierce
battling with those terrible passions he had fostered in his boyhood,
was it all to be in vain? For the last year he had really felt that
all passion was subdued, all those terrible outbursts of passionate
love he had really believed to be stamped out for ever. He had worked
so hard, so unceasingly, through all these five years since his
ordination—he had given himself up solely and entirely to his sacred
office; all the intensity of his nature had been concentrated,
completely absorbed, in the beautiful mysteries of his religion. He
had avoided all that could affect him, all that might call up any
recollection of his early life. Then he had accepted this curacy, with
sole charge of the little chapel that stood close beside the cottage
where he was now living, the little mission-chapel that was the
most distant of the several grouped round the old Parish Church of
St. Anselm. He had arrived only two or three days before, and, going
to call on the old couple who lived in the cottage, the back of which
formed the boundary of his own little garden, had been offered the
services of their grandson as acolyte.

“My son was an artist fellow, sir,” the old man had said: “he never
was satisfied here, so we sent him off to London; he was made a lot of
there, sir, and married a lady, but the cold weather carried him off
one winter, and his poor young wife was left with the baby. She
brought him up and taught him herself, sir, but last winter she was
taken too, so the poor lad came to live with us—so delicate he is,
sir, and not one of the likes of us; he’s a gentleman born and bred,
is Wilfred. His poor mother used to like him to go and serve at the
church near them in London, and the boy was so fond of it himself that
we thought, supposing you did not mind, sir, that it would be a treat
for him to do the same here.”

“How old is the boy?” asked the young priest.

“Fourteen, sir,” replied the grandmother.

“Very well, let him come to the chapel to-morrow morning,” Ronald had
agreed.

Entirely absorbed in his devotions, the young man had scarcely
noticed the little acolyte who was serving for him, and it was not
till he was hearing his confession later in the day that he had
realized his wonderful loveliness.

“Ah God! help me! pity me! After all this weary labour and toil, just
when I am beginning to hope, is every thing to be undone? am I to lose
every thing? Help me, help me, O God!”

Even while he prayed; even while his hands were stretched out in
agonized supplication towards the feet of that crucifix before which
his hardest battles had been fought and won; even while the tears of
bitter contrition and miserable self-mistrust were dimming his
eyes—there came a soft tap on the glass of the window beside him. He
rose to his feet, and wonderingly drew back the dingy curtain. There
in the moonlight, before the open window, stood a small white
figure—there, with his bare feet on the moon-blanched turf, dressed
only in his long white night-shirt, stood his little acolyte, the boy
who held his whole future in his small childish hands.

“Wilfred, what are you doing here?” he asked in a trembling voice.

“I could not sleep, father, for thinking of you, and I saw a light in
your room, so I got out through the window and came to see you. Are
you angry with me, father?” he asked, his voice faltering as he saw
the almost fierce expression in the thin ascetic face.

“Why did you come to see me?” The priest hardly dared recognize the
situation, and scarcely heard what the boy said.

“Because I love you, I love you—oh, so much! but you—you are angry
with me—oh, why did I ever come! why did I ever come!—I never
thought you would be angry!” and the little fellow sank on the grass
and burst into tears.

The priest sprang through the open window, and seizing the slim little
figure in his arms, he carried him into the room. He drew the curtain,
and, sinking into the deep arm-chair, laid the little fair head upon
his breast, kissing his curls again and again.

“O my darling! my own beautiful darling!” he whispered, “how could
I ever be angry with you? You are more to me than all the world.
Ah, God! how I love you, my darling! my own sweet darling!”

For nearly an hour the boy nestled there in his arms, pressing his
soft cheek against his; then the priest told him he must go. For one
long last kiss their lips met, and then the small white-clad figure
slipped through the window, sped across the little moonlit garden,
and vanished through the opposite window.

When they met in the vestry next morning, the lad raised his beautiful
flower-like face, and the priest, gently putting his arms round him,
kissed him tenderly on the lips.

“My darling! my darling!” was all he said; but the lad returned his
kiss with a smile of wonderful almost heavenly love, in a silence that
seemed to whisper something more than words.

“I wonder what was the matter with the father this morning?” said one
old woman to another, as they were returning from the chapel; “he
didn’t seem himself at all; he made more mistakes this morning than
Father Thomas made in all the year he was here.”

“Seemed as if he had never said a Mass before!” replied her friend,
with something of contempt.

And that night, and for many nights after, the priest, with the pale
tired-looking face, drew the curtain over his crucifix and waited at
the window for the glimmer of the pale summer moonlight on a crown
of golden curls, for the sight of slim boyish limbs clad in the long
white night-shirt, that only emphasized the grace of every movement,
and the beautiful pallor of the little feet speeding across the grass.
There at the window, night after night, he waited to feel tender
loving arms thrown round his neck, and to feel the intoxicating
delight of beautiful boyish lips raining kisses on his own.

Ronald Heatherington made no mistakes in the Mass now. He said the
solemn words with a reverence and devotion that made the few poor
people who happened to be there speak of him afterwards almost with
awe; while the face of the little acolyte at his side shone with a
fervour which made them ask each other what this strange light could
mean. Surely the young priest must be a saint indeed, while the boy
beside him looked more like an angel from heaven than any child of
human birth.


PART II

The world is very stern with those that thwart her. She lays down
her precepts, and woe to those who dare to think for themselves, who
venture to exercise their own discretion as to whether they shall
allow their individuality and natural characteristics to be stamped
out, to be obliterated under the leaden fingers of convention.

Truly, convention is the stone that has become head of the corner in
the jerry-built temple of our superficial, self-assertive
civilization.

“_And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on
whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder._”

If the world sees any thing she cannot understand, she assigns the
basest motives to all concerned, supposing the presence of some secret
shame, the idea of which, at least, her narrow-minded intelligence is
able to grasp.

The people no longer regarded their priest as a saint, and his acolyte
as an angel. They still spoke of them with bated breath and with their
fingers on their lips; they still drew back out of the way when they
met either of them; but now they gathered together in groups of twos
and threes and shook their heads.

The priest and his acolyte heeded not; they never even noticed the
suspicious glances and half-suppressed murmurs. Each had found in the
other perfect sympathy and perfect love: what could the outside world
matter to them now? Each was to the other the perfect fulfilment of a
scarcely preconceived ideal; neither heaven nor hell could offer more.
But the stone of convention had been undermined; the time could not be
far distant when it must fall.

       *       *       *       *       *

The moonlight was very clear and very beautiful; the cool night air
was heavy with the perfume of the old-fashioned flowers that bloomed
so profusely in the little garden. But in the priest’s little room
the closely drawn curtains shut out all the beauty of the night.
Entirely forgetful of all the world, absolutely oblivious of every
thing but one another, wrapped in the beautiful visions of a love that
far outshone all the splendour of the summer night, the priest and the
little acolyte were together.

The little lad sat on his knees with his arms closely pressed round
his neck and his golden curls laid against the priest’s close-cut
hair; his white night-shirt contrasting strangely and beautifully with
the dull black of the other’s long cassock.

There was a step on the road outside—a step drawing nearer and
nearer; a knock at the door. They heard it not; completely absorbed in
each other, intoxicated with the sweetly poisonous draught that is the
gift of love, they sat in silence. But the end had come: the blow had
fallen at last. The door opened, and there before them in the doorway
stood the tall figure of the rector.

Neither said any thing; only the little boy clung closer to his
beloved, and his eyes grew large with fear. Then the young priest rose
slowly to his feet and put the lad from him.

“You had better go, Wilfred,” was all he said.

The two priests stood in silence watching the child as he slipped
through the window, stole across the grass, and vanished into the
opposite cottage.

Then the two turned and faced each other.

The young priest sank into his chair and clasped his hands, waiting
for the other to speak.

“So it has come to this!” he said: “the people were only too right in
what they told me! Ah, God! that such a thing should have happened
here! that it has fallen on me to expose your shame—our shame! that
it is I who must give you up to justice, and see that you suffer the
full penalty of your sin! Have you nothing to say?”

“Nothing—nothing,” he replied softly. “I cannot ask for pity: I
cannot explain: you would never understand. I do not ask you any
thing for myself, I do not ask you to spare me; but think of the
terrible scandal to our dear Church.”

“It is better to expose these terrible scandals and see that they are
cured. It is folly to conceal a sore: better show all our shame than
let it fester.”

“Think of the child.”

“That was for you to do: you should have thought of him before. What
has his shame to do with me? it was your business. Besides, I would
not spare him if I could: what pity can I feel for such as he——?”

But the young man had risen, pale to the lips.

“Hush!” he said in a low voice; “I forbid you to speak of him before
me with any thing but respect”; then softly to himself, “with any
thing but reverence; with any thing but devotion.”

The other was silent, awed for the moment. Then his anger rose.

“Dare you speak openly like that? Where is your penitence, your shame?
have you no sense of the horror of your sin?”

“There is no sin for which I should feel shame,” he answered very
quietly. “God gave me my love for him, and He gave him also his love
for me. Who is there that shall withstand God and the love that is His
gift?”

“Dare you profane the name by calling such a passion as this ‘love’?”

“It was love, perfect love: it _is_ perfect love.”

“I can say no more now; to-morrow all shall be known. Thank God, you
shall pay dearly for all this disgrace,” he added, in a sudden
outburst of wrath.

“I am sorry you have no mercy;—not that I fear exposure and
punishment for myself. But mercy can seldom be found from a
Christian,” he added, as one that speaks from without.

The rector turned towards him suddenly, and stretched out his hands.

“Heaven forgive me my hardness of heart,” he said. “I have been cruel;
I have spoken cruelly in my distress. Ah, can you say nothing to
defend your crime?”

“No: I do not think I can do any good by that. If I attempted to deny
all guilt, you would only think I lied: though I should prove my
innocence, yet my reputation, my career, my whole future, are ruined
for ever. But will you listen to me for a little? I will tell you a
little about myself.”

The rector sat down while his curate told him the story of his life,
sitting by the empty grate with his chin resting on his clasped hands.

“I was at a big public school, as you know. I was always different
from other boys. I never cared much for games. I took little interest
in those things for which boys usually care so much. I was not very
happy in my boyhood, I think. My one ambition was to find the ideal
for which I longed. It has always been thus: I have always had an
indefinite longing for something, a vague something that never quite
took shape, that I could never quite understand. My great desire has
always been to find something that would satisfy me. I was attracted
at once by sin: my whole early life is stained and polluted with the
taint of sin. Sometimes even now I think that there are sins more
beautiful than any thing else in the world. There are vices that are
bound to attract almost irresistibly any one who loves beauty above
every thing. I have always sought for love: again and again I have
been the victim of fits of passionate affection: time after time I
have seemed to have found my ideal at last: the whole object of my
life has been, times without number, to gain the love of some
particular person. Several times my efforts were successful; each time
I woke to find that the success I had obtained was worthless after
all. As I grasped the prize, it lost all its attraction—I no longer
cared for what I had once desired with my whole heart. In vain I
endeavoured to drown the yearnings of my heart with the ordinary
pleasures and vices that usually attract the young. I had to choose a
profession. I became a priest. The whole æsthetic tendency of my soul
was intensely attracted by the wonderful mysteries of Christianity,
the artistic beauty of our services. Ever since my ordination I have
been striving to cheat myself into the belief that peace had come at
last—at last my yearning was satisfied: but all in vain. Unceasingly
I have struggled with the old cravings for excitement, and, above all,
the weary, incessant thirst for a perfect love. I have found, and
still find, an exquisite delight in religion: not in the regular
duties of a religious life, not in the ordinary round of parish
organizations;—against these I chafe incessantly;—no, my delight is
in the æsthetic beauty of the services, the ecstasy of devotion, the
passionate fervour that comes with long fasting and meditation.”

“Have you found no comfort in prayer?” asked the rector.

“Comfort?—no. But I have found in prayer pleasure, excitement, almost
a fierce delight of sin.”

“You should have married. I think that would have saved you.”

Ronald Heatherington rose to his feet and laid his hand on the
rector’s arm.

“You do not understand me. I have never been attracted by a woman in
my life. Can you not see that people are different, totally different,
from one another? To think that we are all the same is impossible;
our natures, our temperaments, are utterly unlike. But this is what
people will never see; they found all their opinions on a wrong basis.
How can their deductions be just if their premisses are wrong? One law
laid down by the majority, who happen to be of one disposition, is
only binding on the minority _legally_, not _morally_. What right have
you, or any one, to tell me that such and such a thing is sinful for
me? Oh, why can I not explain to you and force you to see?” and his
grasp tightened on the other’s arm. Then he continued, speaking fast
and earnestly:—

“For me, with my nature, to have married would have been sinful: it
would have been a crime, a gross immorality, and my conscience would
have revolted.” Then he added, bitterly: “Conscience should be that
divine instinct which bids us seek after that our natural disposition
needs—we have forgotten that; to most of us, to the world, nay, even
to Christians in general, conscience is merely another name for the
cowardice that dreads to offend against convention. Ah, what a cursed
thing convention is! I have committed no moral offence in this matter;
in the sight of God my soul is blameless; but to you and to the world
I am guilty of an abominable crime—abominable, because it is a sin
against convention, forsooth! I met this boy: I loved him as I had
never loved any one or any thing before: I had no need to labour to
win his affection—he was mine by right: he loved me, even as I loved
him, from the first: he was the necessary complement to my soul. How
dare the world presume to judge us? What is convention to us?
Nevertheless, although I really knew that such a love was beautiful
and blameless, although from the bottom of my heart I despised the
narrow judgment of the world, yet for his sake and for the sake of our
Church, I tried at first to resist. I struggled against the
fascination he possessed for me. I would never have gone to him and
asked his love; I would have struggled on till the end: but what could
I do? It was he that came to me, and offered me the wealth of love his
beautiful soul possessed. How could I tell to such a nature as his the
hideous picture the world would paint? Even as you saw him this
evening, he has come to me night by night,—how dare I disturb the
sweet purity of his soul by hinting at the horrible suspicions his
presence might arouse? I knew what I was doing. I have faced the world
and set myself up against it. I have openly scoffed at its dictates. I
do not ask you to sympathize with me, nor do I pray you to stay your
hand. Your eyes are blinded with a mental cataract. You are bound,
bound with those miserable ties that have held you body and soul from
the cradle. You must do what you believe to be your duty. In God’s
eyes we are martyrs, and we shall not shrink even from death in this
struggle against the idolatrous worship of convention.”

Ronald Heatherington sank into a chair, hiding his face in his hands,
and the rector left the room in silence.

For some minutes the young priest sat with his face buried in his
hands. Then with a sigh he rose and crept across the garden till he
stood beneath the open window of his darling.

“Wilfred,” he called very softly.

The beautiful face, pale and wet with tears, appeared at the window.

“I want you, my darling; Will you come?” he whispered.

“Yes, father,” the boy softly answered.

The priest led him back to his room; then, taking him very gently in
his arms, he tried to warm the cold little feet with his hands.

“My darling, it is all over.” And he told him as gently as he could
all that lay before them.

The boy hid his face on his shoulder, crying softly.

“Can I do nothing for you, dear father?”

He was silent for a moment. “Yes, you can die for me; you can die with
me.”

The loving arms were about his neck once more, and the warm, loving
lips were kissing his own. “I will do any thing for you. O father, let
us die together!”

“Yes, my darling, it is best: we will.”

Then very quietly and very tenderly he prepared the little fellow for
his death; he heard his last confession and gave him his last
absolution. Then they knelt together, hand in hand, before the
crucifix.

“Pray for me, my darling.”

Then together their prayers silently ascended that the dear Lord would
have pity on the priest who had fallen in the terrible battle of
life. There they knelt till midnight, when Ronald took the lad in his
arms and carried him to the little chapel.

“I will say mass for the repose of our souls,” he said.

Over his night-shirt the child arrayed himself in his little scarlet
cassock and tiny lace cotta. He covered his naked feet with the
scarlet sanctuary shoes; he lighted the tapers and reverently helped
the priest to vest. Then before they left the vestry the priest took
him in his arms and held him pressed closely to his breast; he stroked
the soft hair and whispered cheeringly to him. The child was weeping
quietly, his slender frame trembling with the sobs he could scarcely
suppress. After a moment the tender embrace soothed him, and he raised
his beautiful mouth to the priest’s. Their lips were pressed together,
and their arms wrapped one another closely.

“Oh, my darling, my own sweet darling!” the priest whispered tenderly.

“We shall be together for ever soon; nothing shall separate us now,”
the child said.

“Yes, it is far better so; far better to be together in death than
apart in life.”

They knelt before the altar in the silent night, the glimmer of the
tapers lighting up the features of the crucifix with strange
distinctness. Never had the priest’s voice trembled with such
wonderful earnestness, never had the acolyte responded with such
devotion, as at this midnight Mass for the peace of their own
departing souls.

Just before the consecration the priest took a tiny phial from the
pocket of his cassock, blessed it, and poured the contents into the
chalice.

When the time came for him to receive from the chalice, he raised it
to his lips, but did not taste of it.

He administered the sacred wafer to the child, and then he took the
beautiful gold chalice, set with precious stones, in his hand; he
turned towards him; but when he saw the light in the beautiful face
he turned again to the crucifix with a low moan. For one instant his
courage failed him; then he turned to the little fellow again, and
held the chalice to his lips:

“_The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee,
preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life._”

Never had the priest beheld such perfect love, such perfect trust, in
those dear eyes as shone from them now; now, as with face raised
upwards he received his death from the loving hands of him that he
loved best in the whole world.

The instant he had received, Ronald fell on his knees beside him and
drained the chalice to the last drop. He set it down and threw his
arms round the beautiful figure of his dearly loved acolyte. Their
lips met in one last kiss of perfect love, and all was over.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the sun was rising in the heavens it cast one broad ray upon the
altar of the little chapel. The tapers were burning still, scarcely
half-burnt through. The sad-faced figure of the crucifix hung there in
its majestic calm. On the steps of the altar was stretched the long,
ascetic frame of the young priest, robed in the sacred vestments;
close beside him, with his curly head pillowed on the gorgeous
embroideries that covered his breast, lay the beautiful boy in scarlet
and lace. Their arms were round each other; a strange hush lay like a
shroud over all.

“_And whomever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on
whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder._”

                                        X.
  _June, 1894._





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