The Resurgent Mysteries
THE RESURGENT MYSTERIES
BY EDGAR JEPSON
DURING the six generations for which the history of the family known, the Wiltons lave been Tories and high churchmen. There no reason to doubt that in their prehistoric times they were Tories and high churchmen, too, down possibly to the very days of Laud himself. During that part of the eighteenth century covered by the family's records, and during the earlier part of the nineteenth century, they held comfortable livings in the country or in the more reputable towns—towns unsmirched by factories, the abodes of gentlefolk. Their old age was, for the most part, spent in the retirement of a cathedral close, where several of them attained to the rank of canon, two of them to the rank of dean. None of the family ever rose to the rank of bishop, a failure which their enemies, if they can be said to have enemies,— perhaps I should rather say those who envy them,—ascribe to their lack of conspicuous ability; their friends, to their lack of push. The Tractarian movement, though it brought no adherent to Rome from the Wiltons, since their sturdy Toryism prevented so thorough a break with the family tradition, nevertheless lifted them somewhat out of the groove along which they had moved for five generations; and it became the custom for a Wilton, on being ordained at the close of his university career, to become a curate in a slum in one of the more bloated towns, and work for two or three years among the very poor. The father and two of the uncles of Aloysius Wilton had followed this course, and when the time came, Aloysius himself became a curate in the parish of Little St. Barnabas, in Stepney.
It is to be doubted that nature intended Aloysius for the church at all. If she did, assuredly she intended him for the church in the country. He stood six feet three in his stockings; he had gained his Blue for both cricket and football at Oxford; and had he thought it in keeping with his future calling, he might, with unusual ease, have been the amateur heavy-weight boxing champion. On taking orders, he had put these forms of the expression of his simple and direct personality behind him, and the sacrifice was doubtless the more regarded in that he made it cheerfully. Indeed, he was always of a cheerful spirit; and his smiling, fresh-colored face and great bulk made him a remarkable figure in the sordid Stepney slums where life goes a somewhat cheerless and stunted gait.
Aloysius, however, was inclined to regard his admirable body with a certain distress; he could not but feel that it was out of keeping with the more emaciated Anglican ideal. His curly hair, too, was hardly less of a trial to him, since by no efforts could he constrain it to the decent lankness which has to some degree become an outward sign of a devout spirit. He could never be sure what unbecoming appearance it would next assume; and worst of all, two little curly tufts on each side of his forehead had a most discomfiting habit of standing up like horns.
For all that his bulk and strength and his prevailing rude health distressed him somewhat whenever he gave thought to them, these gifts were of the greatest service to him. The population of the parish of Little St. Barnabas ebbs and flows; sometimes it is ten thousand, sometimes twelve thousand souls. The spiritual needs of the bulk of these souls were in the care of Aloysius, his vicar, and Riley, his fellow-curate. The homes of dissent are few in the parish of Little St. Barnabas—fewer, indeed, than in many country towns of five thousand inhabitants, because its people are too poor to support the incumbents of tin chapels. On the other hand, it is uncommonly rich in heathen, not only in the practical heathen whose myriads crowd the slums of all our great cities, but also in the technical heathen from the East and the South. Ethnologists, indeed, and the students of comparative religion who go to the East to study their problems on the spot, might obtain a far greater and far more striking variety of facts in the parish of- Little St. Barnabas at a vast saving of traveling expenses. A second-class return ticket from Fenchurch-Street Station costs fourpence.
The actual regular flock which attends the church itself is small, rarely exceeding three hundred and fifty members; but its clergy minister to the sick, succor the poor, and comfort the afflicted, with little regard to their religious opinions. Hence it comes about that they have made for themselves ten times as much work as they can possibly do. The admirable body of Aloysius enabled him to do twice as much of it as his two colleagues together, and his cheerful and abounding vitality was often of more use in a sick room than many drugs. But his colleagues, ascetics by temperament and conforming in appearance far more closely to the Anglican ideal, could never grow quite easy in their minds, any more than could Aloysius himself, about his bodily gifts. They were alive to their great usefulness; they admired his courage, endurance, and cheerfulness; they were even assured of his devout fondness for the Anglican ritual; but they could not free their minds of doubts of his real spiritual fitness for his office. Then of a sudden it became plain that he was exercising an amazing influence over the heathen within their gates, and their doubts fled.
This influence first became plain after a hard-fought fight between Aloysius and Thick Higgins, a notorious bully of the district. Aloysius came upon him one evening in Stephen's street, dragging along Katusha, the little Jewish interpreter who made known to the outer world the wants and desires of families of the more benighted Russian tribes settled in the parish of Little St. Barnabas. It had occurred to Thick Higgins that her steady earnings would make an agreeable addition to his precarious income, and he was taking her home with him by way of beginning their partnership. Katusha was weeping and imploring the help of a crowd whose sympathy with her was much weaker than its dread of Thick Higgins, when Aloysius thrust through it, and bade him let her be. Higgins refused in words which do not lend themselves to print, and Aloysius scragged him with amazing promptness. Higgins loosed Katusha,—he had to,—and a savage fight followed. Aloysius, though he knew his parish, at first fought faithfully under the Queensberry rules; when he found that his opponent was fighting entirely by the light of nature, his plain English common sense asserted itself, with the result that Thick Higgins was presently taken to the East London Hospital suffering from a broken leg, two broken ribs, and a dislocated shoulder.
The vicar chanced upon the victor coming away from the fray, followed by an admiring crowd, and being a man of some little fancy, he told Riley, his other curate, that Aloysius, with his face alive with berserk fury, and his hair standing up like two horns over his forehead, reminded him of the god Thor returning to Asgard after a battle. He added, as an afterthought, "surrounded by a crowd of trolls." The crowd was not, indeed, of any such malignant composition: but there were in it a number of Lascars and Finns, the persons of all others in the parish most given to minding their own business and least given to swelling crowds.
On the Sunday after this notable victory, at the morning service, or, as the clergy of Little St. Barnabas themselves call it, high mass, some of the pews at the back of the church held foreigners. In one there were some Little Russians, in another some Finns, and in another, stranger still, some Lascars. These rare visitants behaved with unruffled propriety, and Marriott, the lay helper, an Oxford an, who looked after that end of the church, declared at lunch that none of them had eyes or attention for any one or anything but Aloysius and his doings. At the end of the service the Lascars filed out in their noiseless Eastern fashion, but the Finns and Russians were talking to one another with the liveliest excitement. The vicar, supposing that an idle passing curiosity had brought them to the church, gave the matter no more thought.
During the next week Aloysius saw more of Katusha than usual. She was always more or less in touch with the clergy of Little St. Barnabas, for her intimate acquaintance with the lives of the more primitive dwellers in the parish brought to her knowledge many cases of sickness and distress which the sufferers, in the bonds of a strange tongue, had found no way of making known. When, in hard times, she had exhausted the charitable resources of the Jews in relieving the more acute suffering she had discovered, she came for aid to the Christians; and the clergy of Little St. Barnabas had come to regard her with great liking and respect as a most trustworthy and valuable helper. The vicar, indeed, had, to her great amusement, made a serious endeavor to convert her to Christianity. She was a curious fine flower of the race to find growing on its East-end dunghill: slim and pale, with large, appealing eyes, in which the vicar, a man of no little fancy, declared that he saw the reflection of the race's centuries of suffering. Her face, set in a frame of soft, waving hair, was a pure oval, and informed with a virginal innocence and candor vastly charming.
But for all that she had this face of a painter's dream, Katusha lived the strenuous life. She was a thrifty, hard-working creature who, out of her earnings as interpreter and letter-writer to the tongue-bound and illiterate Russians and Finns, kept her old mother and herself in a condition of decent comfort. They had, indeed, save when some starveling waif of Katusha's finding shared it with them, a whole room to themselves. She exacted her small fees from those who could afford to pay them with the most businesslike severity. Her work and her charity, her influence with the magistrate as police-court interpreter, and with the relieving officer, and her connection with the clergy, made her by far the most important woman in the parish of Little St. Barnabas. Her untiring efforts to succor the unfortunate had won her no little affection among a people whose life is far too hard to lend itself to indulgence in the softer emotions.
During the week after the first attendance of the heathen at Little St. Barnabas Katusha sought out Aloysius four times, and carried him off on errands of mercy. By the end of the week he had fallen into the way of talking to her on their way in a cheery and comradelike fashion. Besides these four errands he came upon her at least another dozen times in the course of his work, and, if he was not in haste, stopped and talked to her about the unfortunates she had brought to his notice. On the next Sunday nine pews were filled with heathen: the number of the Finns and Russians had trebled, and the band of Lascars had grown to a score. Among the Finns were a man and woman of a family which had been deported for sorcery, so the story ran in the Russian slums of the parish, on the requisition of the Bishop of Helsingfors himself. Katusha told Aloysius that they still practised the black art in their house in Palmer's street. She seemed to think it the most natural thing in the world.
During the next few weeks the number of the heathen grew and grew until they filled all the back pews of Little St. Barnabas, They watched the service with grave decorum, and imitated the movements of the Christian worshipers. At least the Russians and the Finns did; the Lascars sat impassive from beginning to end. Marriott, the lay helper, still maintained that they had only eyes for Aloysius. One Sunday, at their late supper, he made the curious statement that the bulk of the Russians and Finns understood something of the ritual. The vicar said that that was doubtless owing to its likeness to the ritual of the Greek Church. Marriott said he did not believe it, that most of these benighted ones, the Finns at any rate, had certainly no understanding of the Greek ritual; that he had made up his mind that what they understood were those portions of the Anglican ritual which have come down through Romanism and paganism from the religions of primitive man. The vicar denied with some heat that there were any such portions, and something of a wrangle followed. But no one attached any great weight to Marriott's opinion: he was not an Anglican, but an altruist of doubtful faith, who was devoting himself to the poor out of a passion for humanity, a very useful helper, but incompetent to discuss matters of religion.
During those weeks it became plain that Katusha had given up calling on the vicar for aid; now she always addressed herself to Aloysias. Little by little a comradeship grew up between them. She even fell into the way of consulting him about her rare business troubles; and twice, by dint of explaining to him by signs that he would thrash him if he did not, he made a reluctant client pay her the fees he owed. One night while they were sitting up with a child she had found dying of starvation, and nourishing it at the prescribed intervals, she told him of her life as a child on the border of Finland, where she had lived till she was twelve and gained that knowledge of the Finnish and Russian dialects from which she made her living. Little by little they fell into a way of doing much of their work among the sick together, and presently, from being seen so often together passing along the streets on their errands, they became associated in peoples' minds.
About this time, too, Aloysius found himself dogged at nights as he went about his work. It seemed to him that a little band of Lascars and Finns, some half-dozen, followed him wherever he went. They were not always the same Lascars and Finns. He did not quickly or easily persuade himself of this. Then a not-infrequent event in the lives of the clergy of Little St. Barnabas proved that this band did follow him, and proved, moreover, that it followed him as a body-guard. One night he was coming along one of the slums, when three violent Swedish sailors, who knew not Aloysius or his fists, fell upon him. Aloysius was thumping them with a proper regard to their drunken condition, when there was a rush of feet; the little band of Finns and Lascars were upon them, and the three sailors were knocked senseless before Aloysius could save them. Their assailants, their task done, fled as quickly as they had come; and Aloysius, having satisfied himself that the thickness of the Swedes' skulls had prevented any serious injury, went on his way, bidding the first policeman he met give an eye to the victims. When at breakfast the next morning he told his colleagues of his adventure, Marriott said: "Your heathen have taken you under their protection. It looks as if they had elected you chief."
Meeting Katusha later in the day, Aloysius asked if she knew anything about it. She said with a somewhat constrained air: "Yes; they guard you. It is good. You go often where no coppers go."
"But why do these particular people, these Finns and Lascars, guard me?" said Aloysius.
Katusha only shook her head; she would say no word on that matter. A few days later Aloysius was smoking a restful pipe in his sitting-room, when the servant ushered in Bungay, an old Hindu interpreter, who has lived so long in the parish of St. Barnabas that it is to be doubted that even he himself remembers his Hindu name. He is at all times a very shuffling old man, and on this occasion his manner was of the most suspicious. He set down on the table a large bunch of bananas and two small parcels, and said hurriedly, shuffling back to the door: "The wife of Bhopal Dass send you this rice and ghi and fruit, and pray you look favorably on her in her trouble. She want son."
"Here! What do you mean? What does she mean? What's her trouble?" cried Aloysius.
Bungay was already out of the door. He stuck in his head, said, "She have baby next week," and fled.
Aloysius laughed a little ruefully at this new odd function suddenly thrust on him. He was for returning the offerings at once, when the temptation assailed him to take them to a hungry family to whom they would indeed be a godsend. After all, Bhopal Dass must be earning good wages, or his wife would not be able to spend eighteenpence on offerings. He took them to the hungry family. Coming back he met Marriott, and told him of the visit of Bungay. Marriott opened his eyes wide, and walked along with him for some way without saying anything; then he laughed shortly, and said:
"Really, you know, it's too odd. Of course it's utter nonsense."
"What is?" said Aloysias.
"Oh, an idea of mine. You would n't believe it. I don't myself; for, after all, this is London, and it is the twentieth century."
"You 're as bad as Katusha, and the matter of the bodyguard. This making a mystery of things is rather tiresome," said Aloysius.
"You'd think my idea nonsense: I do myself," said Marriott, hastily. Then he added, in the tone of one thinking aloud, "Yet it would explain that puzzling attendance at church."
Then for a time nothing fresh happened, save that one Sunday when Aloysius had been called away to help celebrate mass at an Aldgate church the curates of which had fallen ill, the heathen filed quietly out of Little St. Barnabas as soon as it became plain that he was not there.
At the beginning of June began a spell of glorious hot weather. Unfortunately, a spell of glorious hot weather in the parish of Little St. Barnabas, though the warmth alone loosens the grip of poverty, brings with it a grievous increase of sickness among the babies and children. The workers were sorely tried by the press of work in the heat, and even Aloysius felt the strain. He saw that Katusha, too, was growing paler, and found her nervous and apt to grow absent-minded, to all seeming rapt suddenly away into some urgent train of thought.
Once, asking her what ailed her, he caught her off her guard. "Oh!" she cried impatiently, "that Finn witch troubles me."
"What's that? How does she trouble you?" said the astonished Aloysius.
But Katusha would say no more. Aloysius pressed her to tell him, and let him see if he could find a way to prevent it. She only looked at him oddly, and shook her head.
A few days later he was coming along Palmer's street. On your right hand, as you come up it, is a row of tall eighteenth-century houses, once the abodes of merchants and master mariners, now a warren of the poor. The sudden feeling that eyes were on him made him look up, and he saw, sitting at an open window on the first floor of one of them, Katusha and the Finn woman who had been deported for sorcery. He met their eyes fixed on him with a curious earnestness, and the picture impressed itself on his mind with a strange suddenness and vividness of detail. He saw that Katusha's lips were parted, that the setting sun had warmed her pale cheeks with its glow, that the Finn woman's eyes were shining exultantly, that her hand was raised to her breast as though she made the sign of the cross. For a breath they were dream figures seen in a dream; then Katusha waved her hand. The spell was broken, and he came back to the life of day. He raised his hat, and smiled up at her; but as he went on his way, he was invaded and oppressed by an odd fancy that the sight he had seen was of sinister portent.
When he met Katusha on the morrow, he asked her why she visited the witch, if the witch troubled her.
"She troubles me not any more. She is all right. We have agreed," said Katusha; and he thought that there was a strange ring in her soft voice. Then she added: "She has medicine very good for sick children. It is of plants."
Aloysius was not satisfied by the statement. Again and again during the next few days the vivid picture of the two figures at the window came into his mind, and always it filled him with a deep but vague uneasiness. He began to fear that overwork in the heat was making him fanciful.
On the 23rd of June, the Eve of St. John, the vicar and Riley, tired out by their work among the sick children, left the conduct of the evening service to Aloysius. Between luncheon and the service he found no time to eat anything; and after it, he came out of the church door faint and hungry and very, very thirsty. At the church door he found Katusha waiting for him with the news that he was needed at once in Palmer's street. With a sigh for his waiting supper, he turned and went with her.
They went quickly, and he gathered that he was needed by a sick woman. There were the usual groups about the doors of the houses in Palmer's street, but before the door of the seventh of the tall houses there was a much larger group. At the sight of Aloysius and Katusha, a hush fell on it, and it was quite silent as they passed through it into the house. Katusha led the way up the stairs to the second floor, and knocked at a door. In the pause Aloysius heard the men who had been standing on the pavement filing into the house. Then a woman in the room said something in a strange tongue, and Katusha opened the door, and motioned to him to enter. He went in, and found himself in a room of fair size, looking the larger for its bareness, and dimly lighted by a candle. The air of it was laden with the pungent fragrance of some strange incense. By the little tables on the other side of the room stood the Finn woman. As Aloysius entered, she made a step forward, fell on her knees, and bowing her head till she nearly touched the floor with her forehead, poured forth a stream of words in a high, chanting key.
Aloysius was taken aback, and he stared stupidly from the kneeling woman to Katusha and back again.
"What is she saying? Tell her to get up," he said.
Katusha looked timidly at the woman, but said nothing.
"What is she saying?" said Aloysius, more sharply. He found the heavy, pungent air oppressing him.
"She give you honor," said Katusha in a hushed voice.
"Look here, what does she want? Where's the sick woman? Tell her to stop," cried Aloysius, almost querulously.
"Presently—very soon," said Katusha.
Aloysius stooped and lifted the woman to her feet, he found that she was trembling with violent excitement, and her shining eyes were almost frenzied.
"What's all this? What did you bring me here for?" he said, turning to Katusha.
"It's all right. You see soon," said Katusha; and of a sudden he saw that she was very pale and in as violent an excitement its the Finn woman.
Then the heavy, fragrant air took hold of him with a daze; a deep shadow, filling the room, dimmed the candle to his eyes; he passed his hand over them, and swayed unsteadily. The shadow cleared, and he saw the Finn woman pouring liquor from a jug into a glass; she brought it to him, and thrust it into his hand.
Katusha laid a hand on his arm and said, "Drink; it do you good."
An enticing, strange fragrance rose from the liquor, and Aloysius was very thirsty. He thought for a moment of foul play; but Katusha had bidden him drink. He sipped. The liquor was cool and delicious. Then he drank. He had taken three draughts and nearly emptied the tumbler when the woman snatched it from him and handed it to Katusha. Katusha took it and gazed at it for a breath, as if in doubt; then she raised her eyes to Aloysius. They seemed to grow resolute as she gazed, and she drank. Something in her air gave Aloysius the impression that her drinking was an act of grave meaning, and he cried: "Look here, Katusha, what does it all mean? What did you bring me here for?"
She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. Her arms hung down straight and nerveless by her side; the tumbler fell from her nerveless hand. The corners of her lips drooped, and for a breath her face was the face of one who has made a sacrifice and for the while repents.
Aloysius stared at her bewildered. Of a sudden a flood of strange, delightful warmth flowed through his body; a rosy mist filled the room; Katusha's eyes opened, shining with tears, and appealing. He laughed loud in a groundless exultation. Then every thing swam before his eyes, the figures of Katusha and the Finn woman seemed to swell to superhuman size, waver, and recede; the world slipped away, and he knew no more.
He knew no more till he found himself walking along Church street fifty yards from the vicarage in the bright, clean light of the early morning. His head throbbed and ached; his throat pained him as if he had been shouting for hours; his legs were unsteady; and he was parched with thirst. His mind was in a dull confusion; he knew nothing of how he came there; his only thought was to get home.
He stumbled along to the vicarage door, let himself in, and stumbled up-stairs to his bedroom. His first act was to drain the water-bottle. Then he undressed with fumbling fingers, put on his dressing-gown, and went to the bathroom. He could not wait for the bath to fill, but made haste to get his forehead under the tap. The cold water was very grateful. When the bath was filled, he lay still in the refreshing water while the throbbing and aching of his head lessened and lessened. Then he rubbed himself into a fine glow, and turned very drowsy. He went to bed, and slept for six hours.
When he awoke, his head still ached a little, and as he dressed and made his breakfast, he tried to call to mind the happenings of the night. He remembered going with Katusha to the Finn woman's house, and how they had drunk the strange liquor: he could recall its strange fragrance and flavor, and the strange, exhilarating flood of warmth it set flowing through him. He remembered Katusha's eyes very plainly. There his memory ceased, and rack it as he might, he could recall no more. He put the matter out of his mind, resolving that he would have the truth from Katusha, and went on with his breakfast. He was surprised to find himself so little hungry, seeing that he could remember eating nothing since luncheon the day before; he might have supped heavily for all the appetite he had.
As he went about his work, his mind, now that he no longer racked it, gave him now and again a blurred and hazy memory of the night—once a memory of a ring of faces of exultant, drunken men and women singing, once a memory of Katusha clinging to him. The brief glimpses of the faces that came to him showed them all foreign. Once in the afternoon he chanced on one of the many views of the Thames at the end of a slum, and as he paused to look at it, he had a sudden impression of men yelling "Yarilo! Yarilo! Yarilo!" with frenzied vehemence—an impression so vivid that he turned sharply to look for them. As he turned, his hearing cleared, and he heard only the noises of the slum.
All through the day he looked for Katusha, but found her nowhere. He neither met her, nor had she visited any of the sick children under their common care. He did not get back to the vicarage till nearly dinner-time. He found Marriott in the common room and at once began to unburden himself of his story, and Marriott was soon listening with the liveliest interest. He did not interrupt, but as soon as Aloysius had done, he began to ask questions, one or two of them most discomforting. When Aloysius told him of his fancy that he had heard men yelling "Yarilo!" he banged his hand down on the table and cried, "The key-word! The absolute key-word!"
Hut he would not any the more give Aloysius his explanation of what had happened. He said that it was only a rather mad idea of his, and there might be nothing in it.
"Well, at any rate, you can tell me what Yarilo means," growled Aloysias, whose sweet temper was for the while soured.
"Yarilo was probably a deity of the primitive Slavs; but we don't really know for certain," said Marriott.
"Look here, have I got mixed up in any sort of devil-worship?" said Aloysius.
"Oh, no; nothing so modern or so vulgar: there's no doubt of that. But I must be off and get a bath and change," said Marriott; and he went hastily to the door.
"Well, I shall get it out of Katusha," said Aloysius.
"That I'm sure you won't," said Marriott, and he went.
On the morrow there was an undiminished attendance of heathen at Little St. Barnabas. On Monday morning, having failed to find Katusha anywhere during the day, Aloysius went to the house where she lived. At his knock, her mother came to the door of their room, with her finger on her lips, and said, "She ill; she sleep."
Aloysius was forced to possess his soul in patience. He sent the doctor to her; and the doctor told him that her illness was only a passing weakness, due probably to the heat. He sent her some fruit every day. Little by little his disquiet and curiosity about his adventure on the Eve of St. John began to lessen. Then on the Thursday afternoon he chanced upon her in the street. At the sight of him her face flamed a vivid scarlet, and then faded to a deeper pallor. They shook hands, and he found that she was trembling; at the touch of her hand he was seized by a violent desire to pick her up and kiss her. It amazed and shocked him; for both as an athlete, and as a hard-living curate, he had had a healthy carelessness of the charms of women.
They walked along the street, both very ill at ease, stammering disjointed questions and answers. Then as his wits cleared after the shock of the sudden temptation, Aloysius saw that Katusha had suffered a change; she seemed, during her illness or her rest, to have grown more beautiful: her skin had a finer luster; its pallor was warmer; her eyes were brighter; her lips were redder; her voice seemed deeper and richer. It might have been a real change, it might have been his fancy, born of his sudden discovery that he would like to kiss her.
They walked along, each timid of the other, talking of the sick children without being clearly aware of what they said, till they came to an empty street. Then Aloysius said, "Tell me what happened after I drank that curious drink on Friday night."
Katusha did not start or look ill at ease; she was plainly ready for the question. She rather gained the composure she had been lacking, and looking at him with eyes of a limpid innocence, said: "I do not know. I drank, too."
"Oh, yes; but you drank ever so much less than I did. Besides, you knew what would happen if we drank."
Katusha's lips set rather obstinately, and she said: "I went into dream. You went into dream."
"That's all very well, but what sort of dream?" said Aloysius.
"I do not know," said Katusha.
From this standpoint she would not budge; no questioning drew from her another gleam of light on the matter. Yet Aloysius felt that she knew more, much more. He made up his mind that he must grow content with his ignorance: the Finn woman would certainly not speak, even had she not been safe behind the barrier of her strange tongue.
He parted from Katusha in some anger, and it was some time before they worked together again in their old comradeship. Aloysius was chiefly to blame for this. The amazing desire to pick her up and kiss her when he met her after his strange and unknown adventures at the house of the Finn woman had frightened him not a little. He feared its recurrence, and found that he had reason for the fear. Twice or thrice it did recur; therefore, for the while he shunned her. However, little by little the fear wore off, and he fell into the old habit of working with her.
Little by little, too, his disquiet and curiosity about his doings on the Eve of St. John died away. He said nothing of his adventure to the vicar; for it seemed to his practical good sense that nothing could come of doing so: it would only add to that good man's abundant worries. But though his curiosity died away, the unbroken attendance of the heathen at Little St. Barnabas kept that night in his mind. Two or three times, also, he found himself called upon to act as judge in disputes between dwellers in the Russian slums, and once in a quarrel between two Lascars. He took it as all in the day's work: it kept them out of the police court. But he was a little astonished to find that his judgments were accepted without question. In a somewhat exasperating fashion Marriott congratulated him on the success with which he discharged his double functions.
Then in the middle of September Katusha suddenly disappeared. She went away one afternoon with her mother, telling no one where she was going, giving no reason for her going. The clergy of Little St. Barnabas missed her sorely; they found themselves out of touch with that part of their flock whose needs were at once the greatest and the most difficult to come at. For his part, Aloysius missed her most of all; he was amazed to find what a gap her going had left in his life. Robbed of her stimulating and untiring companionship, he found that his work lost much of its interest. What was worse, it lost in value; and at last he realized how great a difference that quiet helper, undismayed by difficulties, endowed with the splendid patience and endurance of her race, had made to it; how her charming face and nature had thrown a mist of beauty, for him at any rate, over the squalor of its sphere.
He strove in vain to get news of her. No one knew anything. As a last resource, he went to the Finn woman in Palmer's street. She showed herself almost abject before him; he saw very clearly that he had some strange, hidden influence with her. But he could not wring a word of Katusha's whereabouts from her for all that influence, though he believed that she knew. In his distress at the fruitlessness of his search, his worried mind disgorged a little more of his doings on the Eve of St. John. Once coming up the stairs of the vicarage at night, his eye caught the bottom of the tall mirror on the landing, and as it traveled up it, he had a fleeting vision of himself in a strange outlandish dress with a bearskin flung over his shoulders, his face flushed fierce and terrifying, his eyes wild and mazed. And before the vision flashed swiftly away, he knew that so he had seen himself in some other such mirror at the Finn woman's house, and stood staring stupidly at the dull, black-garbed clerical figure which took its place in the glass. Once again, in a dream, he saw the faces of men and women, singing, and heard the yells of "Yarilo! Yarilo!"
The vision and the dream distressed him but little; the longing to find Katusha left small room in his mind for any other strong feeling. Once or twice he found himself debating seriously with himself whether he ought not to have married her and secured her as a helper in his work for good and all; and he found that he could not dismiss the absurd idea with the ridicule it deserved. With some odd fancy that it would bring him nearer to her, perhaps help him find her, he set himself to learn the mongrel dialect of the Russian slums. It was a somewhat pathetic sight, for he had all his life been very dull at languages. However, he found no lack of helpers in the task among those whom he had helped in sickness or poverty, and made some way with it.
The winter wore through, and through it the clergy of Little St. Barnabas maintained their untiring struggle against the misery and sickness of the parish. Time and work had somewhat blunted Aloysius's longing for Katusha, though he never failed to follow up a clue which might bring him to her. Then toward the end of January he was attacked by influenza. He had never known a day's illness since the measles of his childhood, and now he seemed to pay heavily for the years of immunity, and the attack left him weak and feeble. With some stubbornness he refused to go away for a change, and got to work again before he was fit for it. On the Sunday after he was about again, Marriott noticed a change in the manner of the heathen; they left the church talking vehemently with one another, frowning and distressed, some of them, to all seeming, almost terrified. During that week Aloysius also perceived a change in the people. The faces of the Finns and Lascars were no longer respectful and awed; their eyes were full of distrust and fear. He told Marriott of the change; and Marriott, with a serious face, begged him to go away till his strength came back.
"You 're mixed up in a very curious primitive business," he said. "At least that's my idea. Part of it is that as long as a man is well and strong these people virtually worship him; as soon as he grows feeble in any way, they kill him."
Aloysius was somewhat daunted, but, with a sick man's obstinacy, he said that it was absurd, and refused to go. Three nights later his colleagues were out, and there came an urgent call to a dying child. In defiance of the orders of the doctor and the commands of the vicar, Aloysius put on his hat and coat and went. His way lay through the slums of the Russians; he went slowly, and presently a little crowd was following him. He thought it was the self-appointed body-guard which had followed him so long, and went along careless of it, when there was a sudden rush, and a blow on the back of the head sent him reeling against the wall. He twisted round, got his back against the wall, and hit out. They were near a lamp, and he found that the group attacking him was half Russians, half Lascars, and he read murder in their fanatic eyes. They were armed with sticks and sand-bags, and struck at his head. Their numbers hampered them, or the end would have come sooner, and he made some show of defence. In the middle of it he caught the flash of a knife in the hand of a Lascar dashing at him to stab; but a big Finn struck the man down, crying, "No blood! No blood!" Aloysius had only time to think it an odd act, when a blow on the head knocked him senseless. A Lascar threw himself on top of him, set his thumbs in his throat, and strangled him.
Three minutes later two policemen, summoned by a Jewess whose sick child Aloysius had helped nurse, came dashing down the street, blowing their whistles, and the crowd fled. The policeman made no doubt that Aloysius was dead; but with the help of some of the slum-dwellers they picked him up and carried him to the doctor's. As they went, a loud wailing of women broke out not only in the slum they were in, but in the surrounding slums; all the women in that quarter seemed to be wailing.
When the doctor saw Aloysius, he shook his head and said, "No use." But he was young and an enthusiast, and when, on looking into his injuries, he found the black thumb-marks on his throat, he set about trying to get his lungs working again. The policemen were strong and willing, and the three of them worked his arms, and rubbed and kneaded him vigorously. They did not see a sign of life for nearly two hours, and another hour passed before he was breathing evenly with a fair pulse. Then the doctor found that he was suffering from concussion of the brain.
They carried him to the vicarage. He lay insensible for two days, and when he came to himself, he was slow mending. But at last the day came when the doctor talked of letting him eat chicken, and that afternoon his nurse went out to take the air. He lay drowsily watching the faint winter sunlight at the windows, enjoying a pleasant sense of getting again his grip on life, when there came a knock, and the maid ushered in Katusha.
Aloysius's eyes opened very wide in an unbelieving stare. She ran to the bedside, and caught his hand in both hers, crying, "They told me you were dead!"
Aloysius gripped feebly one of her hands, and said: "You 've come back! You 've come back at last!"
"Yes; I come back," said Katusha.
He lay still, staring at her, and saw that her eyes were heavy with weeping, that she was thinner and even paler.
"What on earth did you go away for? You knew how I should miss you," he said querulously.
He felt the little quiver of joy that ran through her; but she shook her head, and said, "I better go."
"What for? You knew I wanted you."
She shook her head again, and said: "That way only trouble come. You rich and Christian; I poor and Jewess. What good in it?"
"Nonsense! I want you. I'm going to have you. You 'll have to marry me," said Aloysius, with something of his old masterfulness.
Katusha shook her head, but a sudden flame shone in her eyes. Aloysius began feebly to draw her down to kiss her; of a sudden she burst into tears, and cried: "You my lord! I do what you say! I try to run away; it no good." And she bent down, and they kissed.
Ten minutes later Marriott came into the room to find Katusha, flushed and with shining eyes, sitting on the bed with Aloysius's hand in hers.
"Hello! The wanderer returned! How are you, Katusha? We 've missed you badly. I hope you 're going to stay."
"She's going to stay with me, at any rate," said Aloysius. "We 're going to be married."
"The dickens you are!" said Marriott. "Well, well, it's probably an excellent thing for both of you. You 're both interested keenly in the same work, though I 've no doubt, if you were n't an orphan, Aloysius, there would be a family row. I'm sure I congratulate you."
"Thank you," said Aloysius; and, after a pause,"And I shall know at last what happened on the Eve of St. John."
"I doubt it," said Marriott. "What does Katusha say?"
Katusha flushed, and shook her head.
"Oh, you 're too tiresome with your mysteries, both of you!" cried Aloysius.
"That's just it; they are mysteries—the mysteries, indeed," said Marriott. "You leave them alone. It's for your own sake I won't tell you about them. You 're a good Anglican, and the mysteries are unsettling. But I will tell you one thing; you 've been
The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain.
And since you virtually were slain the other night, you 're out of them."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Aloysius.