Part 2 out of 3
paper to-night? Purp noticed it in the ads., but we couldn't
understand what it meant."
She held out a page of classified advertising, in which he read
If MR. GISSING, late floorwalker at Beagle and Company, will
communicate with Mr. Beagle Senior, he will hear matters greatly
to his advantage.
There had been great excitement in the private offices of Beagle
and Company after Gissing's sudden disappearance. Old Mr. Beagle
was furious, and hotly scolded his son. In spite of his advanced
age, Beagle senior was still an autocrat and insisted on
regulating the details of the great business he had built up.
"You numbskull!" he shouted to Beagle junior, "that fellow was
worth any dozen others in the place, and you let him be fired by
a mongrel superintendent."
"But, Papa," protested the vice-president, "the superintendent
had to obey the rules. You know how strict the underwriters are
about smoking. Of course he should have warned Gissing, instead
of discharging him "
"Rules!" interrupted old Beagle fiercely--"Rules don't apply in a
case like this. I tell you that fellow has a genius for
storekeeping. Haven't I watched him on the floor? I've never seen
one like him. What's the good of your newfangled methods, your
card indexes and overhead charts, when you haven't even got a
record of his address?"
Growling and showing his teeth, the head of the firm plodded
stiffly downstairs and discharged the superintendent himself.
Already he saw signs of disorganization in the main aisle. Miss
Whippet was tearful: customers were waiting impatiently to have
exchange slips O. K.'d: Mrs. Dachshund was turning over some
jewelled lorgnettes, but it was plain that she was only
"looking," and had no intention to purchase.
So when, after many vain inquiries, the advertisement reached its
target, the old gentleman welcomed Gissing with genuine emotion.
He received him into his private office, locked the door, and
produced a decanter. Evidently beneath his irritable moods he had
sensibilities of his own.
"I have given my life to trade," he said, "and I have grown weary
of watching the half-hearted simpletons who imagine they can rise
to the top by thinking more about themselves than they do about
the business. You, Mr. Gissing, have won my heart. You see
storekeeping as I do--a fine art, an absorbing passion, a
beautiful, thrilling sport. It is an art as lovely and subtle as
the theatre, with the same skill in wooing and charming the
Gissing bowed, and drank Mr. Beagle's health, to cover his
astonishment. The aged merchant fixed him with a glittering eye.
"I can see that storekeeping is your genius in life. I can see
that you are naturally consecrated to it. My son is a good steady
fellow, but he lacks the divine gift. I am getting old. We need
new fire, new brains, in the conduct of this business. I ask you
to forgive the unlucky blunder we made lately, and devote
yourself to us."
Gissing was very much embarrassed. He wanted to say that if he
was going to consecrate himself to floorwalking, he would relish
a raise in salary; but old Beagle was so tremulous and kept
blowing his nose so loudly that Gissing doubted if he could make
"I want you to take a position as General Manager," said Mr.
Beagle, "with a salary of ten thousand a year."
He rose and threw open a mahogany door that led out of his own
sanctum. "Here is your office," he said.
The bewildered Gissing looked about the room --the mahogany
flat-topped desk with a great sheet of plate glass shining
greenly at its thick edges; an inkwell, pens and pencils, a
little glass bowl full of bright paper-clips; one of those
rocking blotters that are so tempting; a water cooler which just
then uttered a seductive gulping bubble; an electric fan, gently
humming; wooden trays for letters and memoranda; on one wall a
great chart of names, lettered Organization of Personnel; a nice
domestic-looking hat-and-coat stand; a soft green rug--Ah, how
alluring it all was!
Mr. Beagle pointed to the outer door of the room, which had a
frosted pane. Through the glass the astounded floorwalker could
read the words
What a delightful little room to meditate in. From the broad
windows he could see the whole shining tideway of Fifth Avenue,
passing lazily in the warm sunlight. He turned to Mr. Beagle,
The next day an advertisement appeared in the leading papers, to
BEAGLE AND COMPANY
take pleasure in announcing to
their patrons and friends that
has been admitted to the firm in
the status of General Manager
Mrs. Purp's excitement at this is easier imagined than described.
Her only fear was that now she would lose her best lodger. She
made Purp go out and buy a new shirt and a collar; she told
Gissing, rather pathetically, that she intended to have the whole
house repapered in the fall. The big double suite downstairs,
which could be used as bedroom and sitting-room, she suggested as
a comfortable change. But Gissing preferred to remain where he
was. He had grown fond of the top floor.
Certainly there was an exhilaration in his new importance and
prosperity. The store buzzed with the news. At his request, Miss
Whippet was promoted to the seventh floor to be his secretary. It
was delightful to make his morning tour of inspection through the
vast building. Mr. Hound, the store detective, loved to tell his
cronies how suspiciously he had followed "The Duke" that first
day. As Gissing moved through the busy departments he saw eyes
following him, tails wagging. Customers were more flattered than
ever by his courteous attentions. One day he even held a little
luncheon party in the restaurant, at which Mrs. Dachshund, Mrs.
Mastiff, and Mrs. Sealyham were his guests. He invited their
husbands, but the latter were too busy to come. It would have
been more prudent of them to attend. That afternoon Mrs.
Dachshund, carried away by enthusiasm, bought a platinum
wrist-watch. Mrs. Mastiff bought a diamond dog-collar. Mrs.
Sealyham, whose husband was temporarily embarrassed in Wall
Street, contented herself with a Sheraton chifforobe.
But it began to be evident that his delightful little office was
not going to be a shrine for quiet meditation. His vanity had
been pleased by the large advertisement about him, but he
suddenly realized the poison that lies in printer's ink. Almost
overnight, it seemed, he had been added to ten thousand mailing
lists. Little Miss Whippet, although she was fast at typewriting,
was hard put to it to keep up with his correspondence. She
quivered eagerly over her machine, her small paws flying. New
pink ribbons gleamed through her translucent summery georgette
blouse. They were her flag of exultation at her surprising rise
in life. She felt it was immensely important to get all these
letters answered promptly.
And so did Gissing. In his new zeal, and in his innocent
satisfaction at having entered the inner circle of Big Business,
he insisted on answering everything. He did not realize that
dictating letters is the quaint diversion of business men, and
that most of them mean nothing. It is simply the easiest way of
assuring yourself that you are busy.
This job was no sinecure. Old Mr. Beagle had so much affectionate
confidence in Gissing that he referred almost everything to him
for decision. Mr. Beagle junior, perhaps a little annoyed at the
floorwalker's meteoric translation, spent the summer afternoons
at golf. The infinite details of a great business crowded upon
him. Inexperienced, he had not learned the ways in which seasoned
"executives" protect themselves against useless intrusion. His
telephone buzzed like a hornet. Not five minutes went by without
callers or interruptions of some sort.
Most amazing of all, he found, was the miscellaneous passion for
palaver displayed by Big Business. Immediately he was invited to
join innumerable clubs, societies, merchants' associations. Every
day would arrive letters, on heavily embossed paper--"The Sales
Managers Club will hold a round-table discussion on Friday at one
o'clock. We would greatly appreciate it if you would be with us
and say a few words."-- "Will you be our guest at the monthly
dinner of the Fifth Avenue Guild, and give us any preachment that
is on your mind?"--"The Merchandising Uplift Group of Murray Hill
will meet at the Commodore for an informal lunch. It has been
suggested that you contribute to the discussion on Underwriting
Overhead."--"The Executives Association plans a clambake and
barbecue at the Barking Rock Country Club. Around the bonfire a
few impromptu remarks on Business Cycles will be called for. May
we count on you?"--"Will you address the Convention of Knitted
Bodygarment Buyers, on whatever topic is nearest your heart?"--
"Will you write for Bunion and Callous, the trade organ of the
Floorwalkers' Union, a thousand-word review of your career?"--
"Will you broadcast a twenty-minute talk on Department Store
Ethics, at the radio station in Newark? 250,000 radio fans will
be listening in." New to the strange and high-spirited world of
"executives," it was natural that Gissing did not realize that
the net importance of this kind of thing was absolute zero. It
did strike him as odd, perhaps, that merchants did not dare to go
on a junket or plan a congenial dinner without pretending to
themselves that it had some business significance. But, having
been so amazingly lifted into this atmosphere of great affairs,
he felt it was his duty to the store to play the game according
to the established rules. He was borne along on a roaring spate
of conferences, telephone calls, appointments, Rotarian lunches,
Chamber of Commerce dinners, picnics to talk tariff,
house-parties to discuss demurrage, tennis tournaments to settle
the sales-tax, golf foursomes to regulate price-maintenance. Of
all these matters he knew nothing whatever; and he also saw that
as far as the business of Beagle and Company was concerned it
would be better not to waste his time on such side-issues. The
way he could really be of service was in the store itself,
tactfully lubricating that complicated engine of goods and
personalities. But he learned to utter, when called upon, a few
suave generalities, barbed with a rollicking story. This made him
always welcome. He was of a studious disposition, and liked to
examine this queer territory of life with an unprejudiced eye.
After all, his inward secret purpose had nothing to do with the
success or failure of retail trade. He was still seeking a
horizon that would stay blue when he reached it.
More and more he was interested to perceive how transparent the
mummery of business was. He was interested to note how
persistently men fled from success, how carefully most of them
avoided the obvious principles of utility, honesty, prudence, and
courtesy, which are inevitably rewarded. These sagacious,
humorous fellows who were amusing themselves with twaddling trade
apothegms and ridiculous banqueteering solemnities, surely they
were aware that this had no bearing upon their own jobs? He
suspected that it was all a feverish anodyne to still some inward
unease. Since they must (not being fools) be aware that these
antics were mere subtraction of time from their business, the
obvious conclusion was, they were not happy with business. There
was some strange wistfulness in the conduct of Big Business Dogs,
he thought. Under the pretence of transacting affairs, they were
really trying to discover something that had eluded them.
The same thing, strangely enough, seemed to be going on in a
sphere of which he knew nothing, the world of art. He gathered
from the papers that writers, painters, musicians, were holding
shindies almost every night, at which delightful rebels, too busy
to occupy themselves with actual creation, talked charmingly
about their plans. Poets were reading poems incessantly,
forgetting to write any. Much of the newspaper comment on
literature made him shudder, for though this was a province quite
strange to him, he had sound instincts. He discerned fatal
ignorance and absurdity between the pompous lines. Yet, in its
own way, it seemed a bold and honest ignorance. Were these, too,
like the wistful executives, seeking where the blue begins?
But what was this strange agitation that forbade his
fellow-creatures from enjoying the one thing that makes
achievement possible--Solitude? He himself, so happy to be left
alone--was no one else like that? And yet this very solitude that
he craved and revelled in was, by a sublime paradox, haunted by
mysterious loneliness. He felt sometimes as though his heart had
been broken off from some great whole, to which it yearned to be
reunited. It felt like a bone that had been buried, which God
would some day dig up. Sometimes, in his caninomorphic conception
of deity, he felt near him the thunder of those mighty paws. In
rare moments of silence he gazed from his office window upon the
sun-gilded, tempting city. Her madness was upon him--her splendid
craze of haste, ambition, pride. Yet he wondered. This God he
needed, this liberating horizon, was it after all in the
cleverest of hiding-places--in himself? Was it in his own
Miss Whippet came scurrying in to say that the Display Manager
begged him to attend a conference. The question of apportioning
window space to the various departments was to be reconsidered.
Also, the book department had protested having rental charged
against them for books exhibited merely to add a finishing touch
to a furniture display. Other agenda: the Personnel Director
wished an appointment to discuss the ruling against salesbitches
bobbing their hair. The Commissary Department wished to present
revised figures as to the economy that would be effected by
putting the employees' cafeteria on the same floor as the store's
restaurant. He must decide whether early closing on Saturdays
would continue until Labor Day.
As he went about these and a hundred other fascinating
trivialities, he had a painful sense of treachery to Mr. Beagle
senior. The old gentleman was so touchingly certain that he had
found in him the ideal shoulders on which to unload his
honourable and crushing burden. With more than paternal pride old
Beagle saw Gissing, evidently urbane and competent, cheerfully
circulating here and there. The shy angel of doubt that lay deep
in Gissing's cider-coloured eye, the proprietor did not come near
enough to observe.
If there is tragedy in our story, alas here it is. Gissing,
incorrigible seceder from responsibilities that did not touch his
soul, did not dare tell his benefactor the horrid truth. But the
worm was in his heart. Late one night, in his room at Mrs.
Purp's, he wrote a letter to Mr. Poodle. After mailing it at a
street-box, he had a sudden pang. To the dreamer, decisions are
fearful. Then he shook himself and ran lightly to a little
lunchroom on Amsterdam Avenue, where he enjoyed doughnuts and
iced tea. His mind was resolved. The doughnuts, by a simple
symbolism, made him think of Rotary Clubs, also of millstones.
No, he must be fugitive from honour, from wealth, from Chambers
of Commerce. Fugitive from all save his own instinct. Those who
have bound themselves are only too eager to see the chains on
others. There was no use attempting to explain to Mr. Beagle--the
dear old creature would not understand.
The next day, after happily and busily discharging his duties,
and staying late to clean up his desk, Gissing left Beagle and
Company for good. The only thing that worried him, as he looked
round his comfortable office for the last time, was the thought
of little Miss Whippet's chagrin when she found her new promotion
at an end. She had taken such delight in their mutual dignity. On
the filing cabinet beside her typewriter desk was a pink geranium
in a pot, which she watered every morning. He could not resist
pulling out a drawer of her desk, and smiled gently to see the
careful neatness of its compartments, with all her odds and ends
usefully arranged. The ink-eraser, with an absurd little whisk
attached to it for brushing away fragments of rubbed paper; the
fascicle of sharpened pencils held together by an elastic band;
the tiny phial of typewriter oil; a small box of peppermints; a
crumpled handkerchief; the stenographic notebook with a pencil
inserted at the blank page, so as to be ready for instant service
the next day; the long paper-cutter for slitting envelopes; her
memorandum pad, on which was written Remind Mr. G. of Window
Display Luncheon--it seemed cruel to deprive her of all these
innocent amusements in which she delighted so much. And yet he
could not go on as a General Manager simply for the happiness of
In the foliage of the geranium, where he knew she would find it
the first thing in the morning, he left a note:--
I am leaving the store to-night and will not be back. Please
notify Mr. Beagle. Explain to him that I shall never take a
position with one of his competitors; I am leaving not because I
didn't enjoy the job, but because if I stayed longer I might
enjoy it too much. Tell Mr. Beagle that I specially urge him to
retain you as assistant to the new Manager, whoever that may be.
You are entirely competent to attend to the routine, and the new
Manager can spend all his time at business lunches.
Please inform the Display Managers' Club that I can't speak at
their meeting to-morrow.
I wish you all possible good-fortune.
As he passed through the dim and silent aisles of the store, he
surveyed them again with mixed emotions. Here he might,
apparently, have been king. But he had no very poignant regret.
Another of his numerous selves, he reflected, had committed
suicide. That was the right idea: to keep sloughing them off,
throwing overboard the unreal and factitious Gissings, paring
them down until he discovered the genuine and inalienable
And so, for the second time, he made a stealthy exit from the
Four days later he read in the paper of old Mr. Beagle's death.
There can be no doubt about it. The merchant died of a broken
Mr. Poodle's reply was disappointing. He said:--
St. Bernard's Rectory,
MY DEAR MR. GISSING:
I regret that I cannot conscientiously see my way to writing to
the Bishop in your behalf. Any testimonial I could compose would
be doubtful at best, for I cannot agree with you that the Church
is your true vocation. I do not believe that one who has deserted
his family, as you have, and whose record (even on the most
charitable interpretation) cannot be described as other than
eccentric, would be useful in Holy Orders. You say that your life
in the city has been a great purgation. If so, I suggest that you
return and take up the burdens laid upon you. It has meant great
mortification to me that one of my own parish has been the cause
of these painful rumours that have afflicted our quiet community.
Notwithstanding, I wish you well, and hope that chastening
experience may bring you peace.
Very truly yours,
J. ROVER POODLE.
Gissing meditated this letter in the silence of along evening in
his room. He brought to the problem his favourite aid to clear
thinking-- strong coffee mixed with condensed milk. Mrs. Purp had
made concession to his peculiarities when he had risen so high in
the world: better to break any rules, she thought, than lose so
notable a tenant. She had even installed a small gas-plate for
him, so that he could brew his morning and evening coffee.
So he took counsel with his percolator, whose bubbling was a
sound he found both soothing and stimulating. He regarded it as a
kind of private oracle, with a calm voice of its own. He listened
attentively as he waited for the liquid to darken.
Appeal--to--the--Bishop,Appeal--to-the--Bishop, seemed to be the
speech of the jetting gurgitation under the glass lid.
He determined to act upon this, and lay his case before Bishop
Borzoi even without the introduction he had hoped for.
Fortunately he still had some sheets of Beagle and Company
notepaper, with the engraved lettering and Office of the General
Manager embossed thereon. He was in some doubt as to the proper
formality and style of address in communicating with a Bishop:
was it "Very Reverend," or "Right Reverend"? and which of these
indicated a superior grade of reverendability? But he decided
that a masculine frankness would not be amiss. He wrote:--
VERY RIGHT REVEREND BISHOP BORZOI,
May one of the least of your admirers solicit an interview with
your very right reverence, to discuss matters pertaining to
religion, theology, and a possible vacancy in the Church? If
there are any sees outstanding, it would be a favour. This is
very urgent. I enclose a stamped addressed envelope.
A prompt reply from the Bishop's secretary granted him an
Scrupulously attired in his tail-coat and silk hat, Gissing
proceeded toward the rendezvous. To tell the truth, he was
nervous: his mind flitted uneasily among possible embarrassments.
Suppose Mr. Poodle had written to the Bishop to prejudice his
application? Another, but more absurd, idea troubled him. One of
the problems in visiting the houses of the Great (he had learned
in his brief career in Big Business) is to find the door-bell. It
is usually mysteriously concealed. Suppose he should have to peer
hopelessly about the vestibule, in a shameful and suspicious
manner, until some flunky came out to chide? In the sunny park
below the Cathedral he saw nurses sitting by their
puppy-carriages; for an instant he almost envied their gross
tranquillity. THEY have not got (he said to himself) to call on a
He was early, so he strolled for a few minutes in the park that
lies underneath that rocky scarp. On the summit, clear-surging
against the blue, the great church rode like a ship on a long
ridge of sea. The angel with a trumpet on the jut of the roof was
like a valiant seaman in the crow's nest. His agitation was
calmed by this noble sight. Yes, he said, the Church is a ship
behind whose bulwarks I will find rest. She sails an unworldly
sea: her crew are exempt from earthly ambition and fallacy.
He ran nimbly up the long steps that scale the cliff, and
approached the episcopal residence. The bell was plainly visible.
He rang, and presently came a tidy little housemaid. He had
meditated a form of words. It would be absurd to say "Is the
Bishop in?" for he knew the Bishop WAS in. So he said "This is
Mr. Gissing. I think the Bishop is expecting me."
Bishop Borzoi was an impressive figure--immensely tall and
slender, with long, narrow ascetic face and curly white hair. He
was surprisingly cordial.
"Ah, Mr. Gissing?" he said. "Sit down, sir. I know Beagle and
Company very well. Too well, in fact-Mrs. Borzoi has an account
Gissing, feeling rather aghast and tentative, had no comment
ready. He was still worrying a little as to the proper mode of
"It is very pleasant to find you Influential Merchants interested
in the Church," continued the Bishop. "I often thought of
approaching the late Mr. Beagle on the subject of a small
contribution to the cathedral. Indeed, I have spent so much in
your store that it would be only a fair return. Mr. Collie, of
Greyhound, Collie and Company, has been very handsome with us: he
has just provided for repaving the choir."
Gissing began to fear that the object of his visit had perhaps
been misunderstood, but the prelate's eyes were bright with
benignant enthusiasm and he dared not interrupt.
"You inquired most kindly in your letter as to a possible vacancy
in the Church. Indeed there is a niche in the transept that I
should be happy to see filled. It is intended for some kind of
memorial statue, and perhaps, in honour of the late Mr. Beagle--"
"I must explain, Sir Bishop," said Gissing, very much disturbed,
"that I have left Beagle and Company. The contribution I wish to
make to the Church is not a decorative one, I fear. It is
"Yourself?" queried the Bishop, politely puzzled.
"Yes," stammered Gissing, "I--in fact, I am hoping to--to enter
The Bishop was plainly amazed, and his long, aristocratic nose
seemed longer than ever as he gazed keenly at his caller.
"But have you had any formal training in theology?"
"None, right reverend Bishop," said Gissing, "But it's this way,"
and, incoherently at first, but with increasing energy and
copious eloquence, he poured out the story of his mental
"This is singularly interesting," said the Bishop at length. "I
can see that you are wholly lacking in the rudiments of divinity.
Of modern exegesis and criticism you are quite innocent. But you
evidently have something which is much rarer --what the Quakers
call a CONCERN. Of course you should really go to the theological
seminary and establish this naif intuitive mysticism upon a
disciplined basis. You will realize that we churchmen can only
meet modern rationalism by a rationalism of our own--by a
philosophical scholarship which is unshakable. I do not suppose
that you can even harmonize the Gospels?"
Gissing ruefully admitted his ignorance.
"Well, at least I must make sure of a few fundamentals," said the
Bishop. "Of course a symbological latitude is permissible, but
there are some essentials of dogma and creed that may not be
He subjected the candidate to a rapid catechism. Gissing, in a
state of mind curiously mingled of excitement and awe, found
himself assenting to much that, in a calmer moment, he would
hardly have admitted; but having plunged so deep into the affair
he felt it would be the height of discourtesy to give negative
answers to any of the Bishop's queries. By dint of hasty mental
adjustments and symbolic interpretations, he satisfied his
"It is very irregular," the Bishop admitted, "but I must confess
that your case interests me greatly. Of course I cannot admit you
to ordination until you have passed through the regular
theological curriculum. Yet I find you singularly apt for one
without proper training."
He brooded a while, fixing the candidate with a clear darkly
"It struck me that you were a trifle vague upon some of the
Articles of Religion, and the Table of Kindred and Affinity. You
must remember that these articles are not to be subjected to your
own sense or comment, but must be taken in the literal and
grammatical meaning. However, you show outward and visible signs
of an inward and spiritual grace. It so happens that I know of a
small chapel, in the country, that has been closed for lack of a
minister. I can put you in charge there as lay reader."
Gissing's face showed his elation.
"And wear a cassock?" he cried.
"Certainly not," said the Bishop sternly. "Not even a surplice.
You must remember you have not been ordained. If you are serious
in your zeal, you must work your way up gradually, beginning at
"I have seen some of your cloth with a little purple dickey which
looks very well in the aperture of the waistcoat," said Gissing
humbly. "How long would it take me to work up to that?"
Bishop Borzoi, who had a sense of humour, laughed genially.
"Look here," he said. "It's a fine afternoon: I'll order my car
and we'll drive out to Dalmatian Heights. I'll show you your
chapel, and tell you exactly what your duties will be."
Gissing was startled. Dalmatian Heights was only a few miles from
the Canine Estates. If the news should reach Mr. Poodle...
"Sir Bishop," he said nervously, "I begin to fear that perhaps
after all I am unworthy. Now about those Articles of Religion: I
may perhaps have given some of them a conjectural and
commentating assent. Possibly I have presumed too far--"
The Bishop was already looking forward to a ride into the country
with his unusual novice.
"Not at all, not at all," he said cheerily. "In a mere lay
reader, a slight laxity is allowable. You understand, of course,
that you are expressly restricted from the pulpit. You will have
to read the lessons, conduct the service, and may address the
congregation upon matters not homiletic nor doctrinal; preaching
and actual entry into the pulpit are defended. But I see
excellent possibility in you. Perform the duties punctually in
this very lowly office, and high ranks of service in the church
militant will be open."
He put on a very fine shovel-hat, and led the way to his large
It was a very uncomfortable ride for Gissing. A silk hat is the
least stable apparel for swift motoring, and the chauffeur drove
at high speed. The Bishop, leaning back in the open tonneau,
crossed one delicately slender shank over another, gazed in a
kind of ecstasy at the countryside, and talked gaily about his
days as a young curate. Gissing sat holding his hat on. He saw
only too well that, by the humiliating oddity of chance, they
were going to take the road that led exactly past his own house.
He could only hope that Mrs. Spaniel and the various children
would not be visible, for explanations would be too complicated.
Desperately he praised the view to be obtained on another road,
but Bishop Borzoi was too interested in his own topic to pay much
"By the way," said the latter, as they drew near the familiar
region, "I must introduce you to Miss Airedale. She lives in the
big place on the hill over there. Her family always used to
attend what I will now call YOUR chapel; she is a very ardent
churchgoer, and it was a sincere grief to her when the place had
to be closed. You will find her a great aid and comfort; not only
that, she is--what one does not always find in the devouter
members of her sex--young and beautiful. I think I understood you
to say you are a bachelor?"
They were approaching the last turning at which it was still
possible to avoid the fatal road, and Gissing's attention was
"Yes, after a fashion," he replied. "Bishop, do you know that
road down into the valley? The view is really superb--Yes, that
road--Oh, no, I am a bachelor--"
It was too late. The chauffeur, unconscious of this private
crisis, was spinning along the homeward way. With a tender
emotion Gissing saw the spires of the poplar trees, the hemlocks
down beyond the pond, the fringe of woods that concealed the
house until you were quite upon it--
The car swerved suddenly and the driver only saved it by a quick
and canny manoeuvre from going down the bank. He came to a stop,
and almost from underneath the rear wheels appeared a scuffling
dusty group of youngsters who had been playing in the road. There
they were-- Bunks, Groups, and Yelpers (inordinately grown!) and
two of the Spaniels. Their clothes were deplorable, their faces
grimed, their legs covered with burrs, their whole demeanour was
ragamuffin and wild: yet Gissing felt a pang of pride to see his
godchildren's keen, independent bearing contracted with the
rowdier, disreputable look of the young Spaniels. Quickly he
averted his head to escape recognition. But the urchins were all
gaping at the Bishop's shovel hat.
"Hot dog!" cried Yelpers "Some hat!"
To his horror, Gissing now saw Mrs. Spaniel, hastening in alarm
down from the house, spilling potatoes from her apron as she ran.
He hurriedly urged the driver to proceed.
"What terrible looking children," observed the Bishop, who
seemed fascinated by their stare. "Really, my good sister," he
said to Mrs. Spaniel, who was now panting by the running board;
"you must keep them off the road or someone will get hurt."
Gissing was looking for an imaginary object on the floor of the
car. To his great relief he heard the roar of the motor as they
started again. But he sat up a little too soon. A simultaneous
roar of "Daddy!" burst from the trio.
"What was that they were shouting at us?" inquired the Bishop,
Gissing shook his head. He was too overcome to speak.
The little chapel at Dalmatian Heights sat upon a hill, among a
grove of pines, the most romantic of all trees. Life, a powerful
but clumsy dramatist, does not reject the most claptrap
"situations," which a sophisticated playwright would discard as
too obvious. For this sandy plateau, strewn with satiny
pine-needles, was the very horizon that had looked so blue and
beckoning from the little house by the pond. Not far away was the
great Airedale estate, which Gissing had known only at an
admiring distance--and now he was living there as an honoured
The Bishop had taken him to call upon the Airedales; and they,
delighted that the chapel was to be re-opened, had insisted upon
his staying with them. The chapel, in fact, was a special
interest with Mr. Airedale, who had been a leading contributor
toward its erection. Gissing was finding that life seemed to be
continually putting him into false positions; and now he
discovered, somewhat to his chagrin, that the lovely little
shrine of St. Spitz, whose stained windows glowed like rubies in
its cloister of dark trees, was rather a fashionable hobby among
the wealthy landowners of Dalmatian Hills. It had been closed all
summer, and they had missed it. The Bishop, in his airy and
indefinite way, had not made it quite plain that Gissing was only
a lay reader; and in spite of his embarrassed disclaimers, he
found himself introduced by Mr. Airedale to the country-house
clique as the new "vicar."
But at any rate it was lucky that the Airedales had insisted on
taking him in as a guest; for he had learned from the Bishop
(just as the latter was leaving) that there was no stipend
attached to the office of lay reader. Fortunately he still had
much of the money he had saved from his salary as General
Manager. And whatever sense of anomaly he felt was quickly
assuaged by the extraordinary comfort and novelty of his
environment. In the great Airedale mansion he experienced for the
first time that ultimate triumph of civilization--a cup of tea
served in bed before breakfast, with slices of bread-and-butter
of tenuous and amazing fragile thinness. He was pleased, too,
with the deference paid him as a representative of the cloth,
even though it compelled him to a solemnity he did not inwardly
feel. But most of all, undoubtedly, he was captivated by the
loveliness and warmth of Miss Airedale.
The Bishop had not erred. Admiring the aristocratic Roman trend
of her brow and nose; the proud, inquisitive carriage of her
somewhat rectangular head, her admirable, vigorous figure and
clear topaz eyes, Gissing was aware of something he had not
experienced before--a disturbance both urgent and agreeable, in
which the intellect seemed to play little part. He was startled
by the strength of her attractiveness, amazed to learn how
pleasing it was to be in her company. She was very young and
brisk: wore clothes of a smart sporting cut, and was (he thought)
quite divine in her riding breeches. But she was also completely
devoted to the chapel, where she played the music on Sundays. She
was a volatile creature, full of mischievous surprise: at their
first music practice, after playing over some hymns on the
pipe-organ, she burst into jazz, filling the quiet grove with the
clamorous syncope of Paddy-Paws, a favourite song that summer.
So into the brilliant social life of the Airedales and their
friends he found himself suddenly pitchforked. In spite of the
oddity of the situation, and of occasional anxiety when he
considered the possibility of Mr. Poodle finding him out, he was
very happy. This was not quite what he had expected, but he was
always adaptable. Miss Airedale was an enchanting companion. In
the privacy of his bedroom he measured himself for a pair of
riding breeches and wrote to his tailor in town to have them made
as soon as possible. He served the little chapel assiduously,
though he felt it better to conceal from the Airedales the fact
that he went there every day. He suspected they would think him
slightly mad if they knew, so he used to pretend that he had
business in town. Then he would slip away to the balsam-scented
hilltop and be perfectly happy sweeping the chapel floor, dusting
the pews, polishing the brasswork, rearranging the hymnals in the
racks. He arranged with the milkman to leave a bottle of milk and
some cinnamon buns at the chapel gate every morning, so he had a
cheerful and stealthy little lunch in the vestry-room, though
always a trifle nervous lest some of his parishioners should
He practiced reading the lessons aloud at the brass lectern, and
discovered how easy is dramatic elocution when you are alone. He
wished it were possible to hold a service daily. For the first
time he was able to sing hymns as loud as he liked. Miss Airedale
played the organ with emphatic fervour, and the congregation,
after a little hesitation, enjoyed the lusty sincerity of a hymn
well trolled. Some of his flock, who had previously relished
taking part in the general routine of the service, were
disappointed by his zeal, for Gissing insisted on doing
everything himself. He rang the bell, ushered the congregation to
their seats, read the service, recited the Quadrupeds' Creed, led
the choir, gave out as many announcements as he could devise,
took up the collection, and at the close skipped out through the
vestry and was ready and beaming in the porch before the nimblest
worshipper had reached the door. On his first Sunday, indeed, he
carried enthusiasm rather too far: in an innocent eagerness to
prolong the service as much as possible, and being too excited to
realize quite what he was doing, he went through the complete
list of supplications for all possible occasions. The
congregation were startled to find themselves praying
simultaneously both for rain and for fair weather.
In a cupboard in the vestry-room he had found an old surplice
hanging; he took it down, tried it on before the mirror, and
wistfully put it back. To this symbolic vestment his mind
returned as he sat solitary under the pine-trees, looking down
upon the valley of home. It was the season of goldenrod and aster
on the hillsides: a hot swooning silence lay upon the late
afternoon. The weight and closeness of the air had struck even
the insects dumb. Under the pines, generally so murmurous, there
was something almost gruesome in the blank stillness: a
suspension so absolute that the ears felt dull and sealed. He
tried, involuntarily, to listen more clearly, to know if this
uncanny hush were really so. There was a sense of being
imprisoned, but only most delicately, in a spell, which some
sudden cracking might disrupt.
The surplice tempted him strongly, for it suggested the sermon he
felt impelled to deliver, against the Bishop's orders. For the
beautiful chapel in the piny glade was, somehow, false: or, at
any rate, false for him. The architect had made it a dainty poem
in stone and polished wood, but somehow God had evaded the neat
little trap. Moreover, the God his well-bred congregation
worshipped, the old traditionally imagined snow-white St. Bernard
with radiant jowls of tenderness, shining dewlaps of love;
paternal, omnipotent, calm--this deity, though sublime in its
way, was too plainly an extension of their own desires. His
prominent parishioners--Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher, Mrs. Griffon,
Mrs. Retriever; even the delightful Mr. Airedale himself--was it
not likely that they esteemed a deity everlastingly forgiving
because they themselves felt need of forgiveness? He had been
deeply shocked by the docility with which they followed the codes
of the service: even when he had committed his blunder of the
contradictory prayers, they had murmured the words automatically,
without protest. To the terrific solemnities of the Litany they
had made the responses with prompt gabbling precision, and with a
rapidity that frankly implied impatience to take the strain off
Somehow he felt that to account for a world of unutterable
strangeness they had invented a God far too cheaply simple. His
mood was certainly not one of ribald easy scoff. It was they (he
assured himself) whose theology was essentially cynical; not he.
He was a little weary of this just, charitable, consoling,
hebdomadal God; this God who might be sufficiently honoured by a
decorously memorized ritual. Yet was he too shallow? Was it not
seemly that his fellows, bound on this dark, desperate venture of
living, should console themselves with decent self-hypnosis?
No, he thought. No, it was not entirely seemly. If they pretended
that their God was the highest thing knowable, then they must
bring to His worship the highest possible powers of the mind. He
had a strange yearning for a God less lazily conceived: a God
perhaps inclement, awful, master of inscrutable principles. Yet
was it desirable to shake his congregation's belief in their
traditional divinity? He thought of them--so amiable, amusing,
spirited and generous, but utterly untrained for abstract
imaginative thought on any subject whatever. His own strange
surmisings about deity would only shock and horrify them And
after all, was it not exactly their simplicity that made them
lovable? The great laws of truth would work their own destinies
without assistance from him! Even if these pleasant creatures did
not genuinely believe the rites they so politely observed (he
knew they did not, for BELIEF is an intellectual process of
extraordinary range and depth), was it not socially useful that
they should pretend to do so?
And yet--with another painful swing of the mind--was it necessary
that Truth should be worshipped with the aid of such
astonishingly transparent formalisms, hoaxes, and mummeries?
Alas, it seemed that this was an old, old struggle that must be
troublesomely fought out, again and again down the generations.
Prophets were twice stoned--first in anger; then, after their
death, with a handsome slab in the graveyard. But words uttered
in sincerity (he thought) never fail of some response. Though he
saw his fellows leashed with a heavy chain of ignorance,
stupidity, passion, and weakness, yet he divined in life some
inscrutable principle of honour and justice; some unreckonable
essence of virtue too intimate to understand; some fumbling
aspiration toward decency, some brave generosity of spirit, some
cheerful fidelity to Beauty. He could not see how, in a world so
obviously vast and uncouth beyond computation, they could find a
puny, tidy, assumptive, scheduled worship so satisfying. But
perhaps, since all Beauty was so staggering, it was better they
should cherish it in small formal minims. Perhaps in this whole
matter there was some lovely symbolism that he did not
The soft brightness was already lifting into upper air, a mingled
tissue of shadows lay along the valley. In the magical clarity of
the evening light he suddenly felt (as one often does, by
unaccountable planetary instinct) that there was a new moon.
Turning, he saw it, a silver snipping daintily afloat; and not
far away, an early star. He had found no creed in the prayer-book
that accounted for the stars. Here at the bottom of an ocean of
sky, we look aloft and see them thick-speckled--mere barnacles,
perhaps, on the keel of some greater ship of space. He remembered
how at home there had been a certain burning twinkle that peeped
through the screen of the dogwood tree. As he moved on his porch,
it seemed to flit to and fro, appearing and vanishing. He was
often uncertain whether it was a firefly a few yards away, or a
star the other side of Time. Possibly Truth was like that.
There was a light swift rustle behind him, and Miss Airedale
"Hullo!" she said. "I wondered where you were. Is this how you
spend your afternoons, all alone?"
Stars, creeds, cosmologies, promptly receded into remote
perspective and had to shift for themselves. It was true that
Gissing had somewhat avoided her lately, for he feared her
fascination. He wished nothing else to interfere with his search
for what he had not yet found. Postpone the female problem to the
last, was his theory: not because it was insoluble, but because
the solution might prove to be less interesting than the problem
itself. But side by side with her, she was irresistible. A
skittish brightness shone in her eyes.
"Great news!" she exclaimed. "I've persuaded Papa to take us all
down to Atlantic City for a couple of days."
"Wonderful!" cried Gissing. "Do you know, I've never been to the
"Don't worry," she replied. "I won't let you see much of the
ocean. We'll go to the Traymore, and spend the whole time dancing
in the Submarine Grill."
"But I must be back in time for the service on Sunday," he said.
"We're going to leave first thing in the morning. We'll go in the
car, and I'll drive. Will you sit with me in the front seat?"
"Watch me!" replied Gissing gallantly.
"Come on then, or you'll be late for dinner. I'll race you home!"
And she was off like a flash.
But in spite of Miss Airedale's threat, at Atlantic City they
both fell into a kind of dreamy reverie. The wine-like tingle of
that salty air was a quiet drug. The apparently inexhaustible
sunshine was sharpened with a faint sting of coming autumn.
Gissing suddenly remembered that it was ages since he had simply
let his mind run slack and allowed life to go by unstudied. Mr.
and Mrs. Airedale occupied a suite high up in the terraced mass
of the huge hotel; they wrapped themselves in rugs and basked on
their private balcony. Gissing and the daughter were left to
their own amusements. They bathed in the warm September surf;
they strolled the Boardwalk up beyond the old Absecon light,
where the green glimmer of water runs in under the promenade.
They sat on the deck of the hotel--or rather Miss Airedale sat,
while Gissing, courteously attentive, leaned over her
steamer-chair. He stood so for hours, apparently in devoted chat;
but in fact he was half in dream. The smooth flow of the little
rolling shays just below had a soothing hypnotic erect. But it
was the glorious polished blue of the sea-horizon that bounded
all his thoughts. Even while Miss Airedale gazed archly up at
him, and he was busy with cheerful conversation, he was conscious
of that broad band of perfect colour, monotonous, comforting,
thrilling. For the first time he realized the great rondure of
the world. His mind went back to the section of the prayer-book
that had always touched him most pointedly--the "Forms of Prayer
to be Used at Sea." In them he had found a note of sincere terror
and humility. And now he viewed the sea for the first time in
this setting of notable irony. The open dazzle of placid
elements, obedient only to some cosmic calculus, lay as a serene
curtain against which the quaint flamboyance of the Boardwalk was
all the more amusing. The clear rim of sea curving off into space
drew him with painful curiosity. Here at last was what he had
needed. The proud waters went over his soul. Here indeed the blue
He looked down at Miss Airedale, who had gone to sleep while
waiting for him to say something. He tiptoed away and went to his
room to write down some ideas. Against the wide challenge of that
blue hemisphere, where half the world lay open and free to the
eye, the Bishop's prohibition lost weight. He was resolved to
preach a sermon.
At dusk he met Miss Airedale on the high balcony that runs around
the reading-room of the hotel. They were quite alone up there.
Along the Boardwalk, in the pale sentimental twilight, the
translucent electric globes shone like a long string of pearls.
She was very tempting in a gay evening frock, and reproached him
for having neglected her. She shivered a little in the cool wind
coming off the darkening water. The weakness of the hour was upon
him. He put his arm tenderly round her as they leaned over the
"See those darling children down on the sand," she said. "I do
adore puppies, don't you?"
He remembered Groups, Bunks, and Yelpers. Nothing is so potent as
the love of children when you are away from them. She gazed
languishing at him; he responded with a generous pressure. But
his alarmed soul thrilled with panic.
"You must excuse me a moment, while I dress for dinner," he said.
He was strangely terrified by the look of secret understanding in
her beautiful eyes. It seemed to imply some subtle, inexpressible
pact. As a matter of truth, she was unconscious of it: it was
only the old demiurge speaking in her; the old demiurge which was
pursuing him just as ardently as he was trailing the dissolving
blue of his dream. But he was much agitated as he went down in
"Heavens," he said to himself; "are we all only toys in the power
of these terrific instincts?"
For the first time he was informed of the infinite feminine
capacity for being wooed.
That night they danced in the Submarine Grill. She floated in his
embrace with triumphant lightness. Her eyes, utilized as
temporary lamps by a lighting-circuit of which she was quite
unaware, beamed with happy lustre. The lay reader, always docile
to the necessities of occasion, murmured delightful trifles. But
his private thoughts were as aloof and shining and evasive as the
goldfish that twinkled in the glass pool overhead. He picked up
her scarf and her handkerchief when she dropped them. He smiled
vaguely when she suggested that she thought she could persuade
Mr. Airedale to stay in Atlantic City over the week-end, and why
worry about the service on Sunday? But when she and the yawning
Mrs. Airedale had retired, he hastened to his chamber and packed
his bag. Stealthily he went to the desk and explained that he was
leaving unexpectedly on business, and that the bill should go to
Mr. Airedale, whose guest he had been. He slipped away out of the
side door, and caught the late train. Mrs. Airedale chafed her
daughter that night for whining in her sleep.
The chapel of St. Spitz was crowded that fine Sunday morning, and
the clang and thud of its bells came merrily through the thin
quick air to worshippers arriving in their luxurious motors. The
amiable oddity of the lay reader's demeanour as priest had added
a zest to churchgoing. The congregation were particularly
pleased, on this occasion, to see Gissing appear in surplice and
stole. They had felt that his attire on the previous Sundays had
been a little too informal. And when, at the time usually
allotted to the sermon, Gissing climbed the pulpit steps,
unfurled a sheaf of manuscript, and gazed solemnly about, they
settled back into the pew cushions in a comfortable, receptive
mood. They had a subconscious feeling that if their souls were to
be saved, it was better to have it done with all the proper
formalities. They did not notice that he was rather pale, and
that his nose twitched nervously.
"My friends," he said, "in this beautiful little chapel, on this
airy hilltop, one might, if anywhere, speak with complete
honesty. For you who gather here for worship are, in the main,
people of great affairs; accustomed to looking at life with high
spirit and with quick imagination. I will ask you then to be
patient with me while I exhort you to carry into your religion
the same enterprising and ambitious gusto that has made your
worldly careers a success. You are accustomed to deal with great
affairs. Let me talk to you about the Great Affairs of God."
Gissing had been far too agitated to be able to recognize any
particular members of his audience. All the faces were fused into
a common blur. Miss Airedale, he knew, was in the organ loft, but
he had not seen her since his flight from Atlantic City, for he
had removed from the Airedale mansion before her return, and had
made himself a bed in the corner of the vestry-room. He feared
she was angry: there had been a vigorous growling note in some of
the bass pipes of the organ as she played the opening hymn. He
had not seen a tall white-haired figure who came into the chapel
rather late, after the service had begun, and took a seat at the
back. Bishop Borzoi had seized the opportunity to drive out to
Dalmatian Heights this morning to see how his protege was getting
on. When the Bishop saw his lay reader appear in surplice and
scarlet hood, he was startled. But when the amateur parson
actually ascended the pulpit, the Bishop's face was a study. The
hair on the back of his neck bristled slightly.
"It is so easy," Gissing continued, "to let life go by us in its
swift amusing course, that sometimes it hardly seems worth while
to attempt any bold strokes for truth. Truth, of course, does not
need our assistance; it can afford to ignore our errors. But in
this quiet place, among the whisper of the trees, I seem to have
heard a disconcerting sound. I have heard laughter, and I think
it is the laughter of God."
The congregation stirred a little, with polite uneasiness. This
was not quite the sort of thing to which they were accustomed.
"Why should God laugh? I think it is because He sees that very
often, when we pretend to be worshipping Him, we are really
worshipping and gratifying ourselves. I used the phrase 'Great
Affairs.' The point I want to make is that God deals with far
greater affairs than we have realized. We have imagined Him on
too petty a scale. If God is so great, we must approach Him in a
spirit of greatness. He is not interested in trivialities--
trivialities of ritual, of creed, of ceremony. We have imagined a
vain thing--a God of our own species; merely adding to the
conception, to gild and consecrate, a futile fuzbuz of
supernaturalism. My friends, the God I imagine is something more
than a formula on Sundays and an oath during the week."
Those sitting in the rear of the Chapel were startled to hear a
low rumbling sound proceeding from the diaphragm of the Bishop,
who half rose from his seat and then, by a great effort of will,
contained himself. But Gissing, rapt in his honourable
speculations, continued with growing happiness.
"I ask you, though probably in vain, to lay aside for the moment
your inherited timidities and conventions. I ask you to lay aside
pride, which is the devil itself and the cause of most
unhappiness. I ask you to rise to the height of a great
conception. To 'magnify' God is a common phrase in our
observances. Then let us truly magnify Him--not minify, as the
theologians do. If God is anything more than a social fetich,
then He must be so much more that He includes and explains
everything. It may sound inconceivable to you, it may sound
sacrilegious, but I suggest to you that it is even possible God
may be a biped--"
The Bishop could restrain himself no longer. He rose with flaming
eyes and stood in the aisle. Mr. Airedale, Mr.
Dobermann-Pinscher, and several other prominent members of the
Church burst into threatening growls. A wild bark and clamour
broke from Mr. Towser, the Sunday School superintendent, and his
pupils, who sat in the little gallery over the door. And then, to
Gissing's horror and amazement, Mr. Poodle appeared from behind a
pillar where he had been chafing unseen. In a fierce tenor voice
shaken with indignation he cried:
"Heretic and hypocrite! Pay no attention to his abominable
nonsense! He deserted his family to lead a life of pleasure!"
"Seize him!" cried the Bishop in a voice of thunder.
The church was now in an uproar. A shrill yapping sounded among
the choir. Mrs. Airedale swooned; the Bishop's progress up the
aisle was impeded by a number of ladies hastening for an exit.
Old Mr. Dingo, the sexton, seized the bell-rope in the porch and
set up a furious pealing. Cries of rage mingled with hysterical
howls from the ladies. Gissing, trembling with horror, surveyed
the atrocious hubbub. But it was high time to move, or his
retreat would be cut off. He abandoned his manuscript and bounded
down the pulpit stairs.
"Unfrock him!" yelled Mr. Poodle.
"He's never been frocked!" roared the Bishop.
"Impostor!" cried Mr. Airedale.
"Excommunicate him!" screamed Mr. Towser.
"Take him before the consistory!" shouted Mr. Poodle.
Gissing started toward the vestry door, but was delayed by the
mass of scuffling choir-puppies who had seized this
uncomprehended diversion as a chance to settle some scores of
their own. The clamour was maddening. The Bishop leapt the
chancel rail and was about to seize him when Miss Airedale, loyal
to the last, interposed. She flung herself upon the Bishop.
"Run, run!" she cried. "They'll kill you!"
Gissing profited by this assistance. He pushed over the lectern
upon Mr. Poodle, who was clutching at his surplice. He checked
Mr. Airedale by hurling little Tommy Bull, one of the choir,
bodily at him. Tommy's teeth fastened automatically upon Mr.
Airedale's ear. The surplice, which Mr. Poodle was still holding,
parted with a rip, and Gissing was free. With a yell of defiance
he tore through the vestry and round behind the chapel.
He could not help pausing a moment to scan the amazing scene,
which had been all Sabbath calm a few moments before. From the
long line of motor cars parked outside the chapel incredible
chauffeurs were leaping, hurrying to see what had happened. The
shady grove shook with the hideous clamour of the bell, still
wildly tolled by the frantic sexton. The sudden excitement had
liberated private quarrels long decently repressed: in the porch
Mrs. Retriever and Mrs. Dobermann-Pinscher were locked in combat.
With a splintering crash one of the choir-pups came sailing
through a stained-glass window, evidently thrown by some
infuriated adult. He recognized the voice of Mr. Towser, raised
in vigorous lamentation. To judge by the sound, Mr. Towser's
pupils had turned upon him and were giving him a bad time. Above
all he could hear the clear war-cry of Miss Airedale and the
embittered yells of Mr. Poodle. Then from the quaking edifice
burst Bishop Borzoi, foaming with wrath, his clothes much
tattered, and followed by Mr. Poodle, Mr. Airedale, and several
others. They cast about for a moment, and then the Bishop saw
him. With a joint halloo they launched toward him.
There was no time to lose. He fled down the shady path between
the trees, but with a hopeless horror in his heart. He could not
long outdistance such a runner as the Bishop, whose tremendous
strides would surely overhaul him in the end. If only he had
known how to drive a car, he might have commandeered one of the
long row waiting by the gate. But he was no motorist. Miss
Airedale could have saved him, in her racing roadster, but she
had not emerged from the melee in the chapel. Perhaps the Bishop
had bitten her. His blood warmed with anger.
It happened that they had been mending the county highways, and a
large steam roller stood a few hundred feet down the road, drawn
up beside the ditch. Gissing knew that it was customary to leave
these engines with the fire banked and a gentle pressure of steam
simmering in the boiler. It was his only chance, and he seized
it. But to his dismay, when he reached the machine, which lay
just round a bend in the road, he found it shrouded with a huge
tarpaulin. However, this suggested a desperate chance. He whipped
nimbly inside the covering and hid in the coal-box. Lying there,
he heard the chase go panting by.
As soon as he dared, he climbed out, stripped off the canvas, and
gazed at the bulky engine. It was one of those very tall and
impressive rollers with a canopy over the top. The machinery was
not complicated, and the ingenuity of desperation spurred him on.
Hurriedly he opened the draughts in the fire-box, shook up the
coals, and saw the needle begin to quiver on the pressure-gauge.
He experimented with one or two levers and handles. The first one
he touched let off a loud scream from the whistle. Then he
discovered the throttle. He opened it a few notches, cautiously.
The ponderous machine, with a horrible clanking and grinding,
began to move forward.
A steam roller may seem the least helpful of all vehicles in
which to conduct an urgent flight; but Gissing's reasoning was
sound. In the first place, no one would expect to find a hunted
fugitive in this lumbering, sluggish behemoth of the road.
Secondly, sitting perched high up in the driving saddle, right
under the canopy, he was not easily seen by the casual passer-by.
And thirdly, if the pursuit came to close grips, he was still in
a strategic position. For this, the most versatile of all
land-machines except the military tank, can move across fields,
crash through underbrush, and travel in a hundred places that
would stall a motor car. He rumbled off down the road somewhat
exhilarated. He found the scarlet stole twisted round his neck,
and tied it to one of the stanchions of the canopy as a flag of
defiance. It was not long before he saw the posse of pursuit
returning along the road, very hot and angry. He crunched along
solemnly, busying himself to get up a strong head of steam. There
they were, the Bishop, Mr. Poodle, Mr. Airedale, Mr.
Dobermann-Pinscher, and Mr. Towser. Mr. Poodle was talking
excitedly: the Bishop's tongue ran in and out over his gleaming
teeth. He was not saying much, but his manner was full of deadly
wrath. They paid no attention to the roller, and were about to
pass it without even looking up, when Gissing, in a sudden fit of
indignation, gave the wheel a quick twirl and turned his clumsy
engine upon them. They escaped only by a hair's breadth from
being flattened out like pastry. Then the Bishop, looking up,
recognized the renegade. With a cry of anger they all leaped at
But he was so high above them, they had no chance. He seized the
coal-scoop and whanged Mr. Poodle across the skull. The Bishop
came dangerously near reaching him, but Gissing released a jet of
scalding steam from an exhaust-cock, which gave the impetuous
prelate much cause for grief. A lump of coal, accurately thrown,
discouraged Mr. Airedale. Mr. Towser, attacking on the other side
of the engine, managed to scramble up so high that he carried
away the embroidered stole, but otherwise the fugitive had all
the best of it. Mr. Dobermann-Pinscher burned his feet trying to
climb up the side of the boiler. From the summit of his uncouth
vehicle Gissing looked down undismayed.
"Miserable freethinker!" said Borzoi. "You shall be tried by the
assembly of bishops."
"In a mere lay reader," quoted Gissing, "a slight laxity is
allowable. You had better go back and calm down the congregation,
or they'll tear the chapel to bits. This kind of thing will have
a very bad influence on church discipline."
They shouted additional menace, but Gissing had already started
his deafening machinery and could not hear what was said. He left
them bickering by the roadside.
For fear of further pursuit, he turned off the highway a little
beyond, and rumbled noisily down a rustic lane between high banks
and hedges where sumac was turning red. Strangely enough, there
was something very comforting about his enormous crawling
contraption. It was docile and reliable, like an elephant. The
crashing clangour of its movement was soon forgotten-- became, in
fact, an actual stimulus to thought. For the mere pleasure of
novelty, he steered through a copse, and took joy in seeing the
monster thrash its way through thickets and brambles, and then
across a field of crackling stubble. Steering toward the lonelier
regions of that farming country, presently he halted in a dingle
of birches beside a small pond. He spent some time very happily,
carefully studying the machinery. He found some waste and an
oilcan in the tool-chest, and polished until the metal shone. The
water looked rather low in the gauge, and he replenished it from
It was while grooming the roller that it struck him his own
appearance was unusual for a highway mechanic. He was still
wearing the famous floorwalker suit, which he had punctiliously
donned every Sunday for chapel. But he had had to flee without a
hat--even without his luggage, which was neatly packed in a bag
in the vestry. That, he felt sure, Mr. Poodle had already burst
open for evidences of heresy and schism. The pearly trousers were
stained with oil and coal-dust; the neat cutaway coat bore smears
of engine-grease. As long as he stuck to the roller and the
telltale garments, pursuit and identification would of course be
easy enough. But he had taken a fancy to the machine: he decided
not to abandon it yet.
Obviously it was better to keep to the roads, where the engine
would at any rate be less surprisingly conspicuous, and where it
would leave no trail. So he made a long circuit across meadows
and pastures, carrying a devilish clamour into the quiet Sunday
afternoon. Regaining a macadam surface, he set oil at random,
causing considerable annoyance to the motoring public. Finding
that his cutaway coat caused jeers and merriment, he removed it;
and when any one showed a disposition to inquire, he explained
that he was doing penance for an ill-judged wager. His
oscillating perch above the boiler was extraordinarily warm, and
he bought a gallon jug of cider from a farmer by the way.
Cheering himself with this, and reviewing in his mind the queer
experiences of the past months, he went thundering mildly on.
At first he had feared a furious pursuit on the part of the
Bishop, or even a whole college of bishops, quickly mobilized for
the event. He had imagined them speeding after him in a huge
motor-bus, and himself keeping them at bay with lumps of coal.
But gradually he realized that the Bishop would not further
jeopardize his dignity, or run the risk of making himself
ridiculous. Mr. Poodle would undoubtedly set the township road
commissioner on his trail, and he would be liable to seizure for
the theft of a steam roller. But that could hardly happen so
quickly. In the meantime, a plan had been forming in his mind,
but it would require darkness for its execution.
Darkness did not delay in coming. As he jolted cheerfully from
road to road, holding up long strings of motors at every corner
while he jovially held out his arm as a sign that he was going to
turn, dark purple clouds were massing and piling up. Foreseeing a
storm, he bought some provisions at a roadhouse, and turned into
a field, where he camped in the lee of a forest of birches. He
cooked himself an excellent supper, toasting bread and
frankfurters in the firebox of the roller. With boiling water
from a steam-cock he brewed a panikin of tea; and sat placidly
admiring the fawn-pink light on wide pampas of bronze grasses,
tawny as a panther's hide. A strong wind began to draw from the
southeast. He lit the lantern at the rear of the machine and by
the time the rain came hissing upon the hot boiler, he was ready.
Luckily he had saved the tarpaulin. He spread this on the ground
underneath the roller, and curled up in it. The glow from the
firebox kept him warm and dry.
"Summer is over," he said to himself, as he heard the clash and
spouting of rain all about him. He lay for some time, not sleepy,
thinking theology, and enjoying the close tumult of wind and
People who have had an arm or a leg amputated, he reflected, say
they can still feel pains in the absent member. Well, there's an
analogy in that. Modern skepticism has amputated God from the
heart; but there is still a twinge where the arteries were sewn
He slept peacefully until about two in the morning, except when a
red-hot coal, slipping through the grate-bars, burned a
lamentable hole in his trousers. When he woke, the night still
dripped, but was clear aloft. He started the engine and drove
cautiously, along black slippery roads, to Mr. Poodle's house. In
spite of the unavoidable racket, no one stirred: he surmised that
the curate slept soundly after the crises of the day. He left the
engine by the doorstep, pinning a note to the steering-wheel. It
TO REV. J. ROVER POODLE
this useful steam-roller
as a symbol of the theological mind
The steamship Pomerania, which had sailed at noon, was a few
hours out of port on a calm gray sea. The passengers, after the
bustle of lunch and arranging their staterooms; had settled into
their deck chairs and were telling each other how much they loved
the ocean. Captain Scottie had taken his afternoon constitutional
on his private strip of starboard deck just aft the bridge, and
was sitting in his comfortable cabin expecting a cup of tea. He
was a fine old sea-dog: squat, grizzled, severe, with wiry
eyebrows, a short coarse beard, and watchful quick eyes. A
characteristic Scot, beneath his reticent conscientious dignity
there was abundant humour and affection. He would have been
recognized anywhere as a sailor: those short solid legs were
perfectly adapted for balancing on a rolling deck. He stood by
habit as though he were leaning into a stiff gale. His mouth
always held a pipe, which he smoked in short, brisk whiffs, as
though expecting to be interrupted at any moment by an iceberg.
The steward brought in the tea-tray, and Captain Scottie settled
into his large armchair to enjoy it. His eye glanced
automatically at the barometer.
"A little wind to-night," he said, his nose wrinkling
unconsciously as the cover was lifted from the dish of hot
"Yes, sir," said the steward, but lingered, apparently anxious to
"Beg pardon, sir, but the Chief Steward wanted me to say they've
found someone stowed away in the linen locker, sir. Queer kind of
fellow, sir, talks a bit like a padre. 'E must've come aboard by
the engine-room gangway, sir, and climbed into that locker near
the barber shop."
The problem of stowaways is familiar enough to shipmasters. "Send
him up to me," said the Captain.
A few minutes later Gissing appeared, escorted by a burly
quartermaster. Even the experienced Captain admitted to himself
that this was something new in the category of stowaways. Never
before had he seen one in a braided cutaway coat and wedding
trousers. It was true that the garments were in grievous
condition, but they were worn with an air. The stowaway's face
showed some embarrassment, but not at all the usual hangdog mien
of such wastrels. Involuntarily his tongue moistened when he saw
the tray of tea (for he had not eaten since his supper on the
steam roller the night before), but he kept his eyes politely
averted from the food. They rose to a white-painted girder that
ran athwart the cabin ceiling. CERTIFIED TO ACCOMMODATE THE
MASTER he read there, in letters deeply incised into the thick
paint. "A good Christian ship," he said to himself. "It sounds
like the Y. M. C. A." He was pleased to think that his suspicion
was already confirmed: ships were more religious than anything on
The Captain dismissed the quartermaster, and addressed himself
sternly to the culprit.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself?"
"Please, Captain," said Gissing politely, "do not allow your tea
to get cold. I can talk while you eat." Behind his grim demeanour
the Captain was very near to smiling at this naivete. No Briton
is wholly implacable at tea-time, and he felt a genuine curiosity
about this unusual offender.
"What was your idea in coming aboard?" he said. "Do you know that
I can put you in irons until we get across, and then have you
sent home for punishment? I suppose it's the old story: you want
to go sight-seeing on the other side?"
"No, Captain," said Gissing. "I have come to sea to study
In spite of himself the Captain was touched by this amazing
statement. He was a Scot, as we have said. He poured a cup of tea
to conceal his astonishment.
"Theology!" he exclaimed. "The theology of hard work is what you
will find most of aboard ship. Carry on and do your duty; keep a
sharp lookout, all gear shipshape, salute the bridge when going
on watch, that is the whole duty of a good officer. That's plenty
theology for a seaman." But the skipper's eye turned brightly
toward his bookshelves, where he had several volumes of sermons,
mostly of a Calvinist sort.
"I am not afraid of work," said Gissing. "But I'm looking for
horizons. In my work ashore I never could find any."
"Your horizon is likely to be peeling potatoes in the galley,"
remarked the Captain. "I understand they are short-handed there.
Or sweeping out bunks in the steerage. Ethics of the dust! What
would you say to that?"
"Sir," replied Gissing, "I shall be grateful for any task,
however menial, that permits me to meditate. I understand your
point of view. By coming aboard your ship I have broken the law,
I have committed a crime; but not a sin. Crime and sin, every
theologian admits, are not coextensive."
The Captain sailed head-on into argument.
"What?" he cried. "Are you aware of the doctrine of Moral
Inability in a Fallen State? Sit down, sit down, and have a cup
of tea. We must discuss this."
He rang for the steward and ordered an extra cup and a fresh
supply of toast. At that moment Gissing heard two quick strokes
of a bell, rung somewhere forward, a clear, musical, melancholy
tone, echoed promptly in other parts of the ship. "What is that,
Captain?" he asked anxiously. "An accident?"
"Two bells in the first dog-watch," said the Captain. "I fear you
are as much a lubber at sea as you are in theology."
The next two hours passed like a flash. Gissing found the
skipper, in spite of his occasional moods of austerity, a
delicious companion. They discussed Theosophy, Spiritualism, and
Christian Science, all of which the Captain, with sturdy but
rather troubled vehemence, linked with Primitive Magic. Gissing,
seeing that his only hope of establishing himself in the sailor's
regard was to disagree and keep the argument going, plunged into
psycho-analysis and the philosophy of the unconscious. Rather
unwarily he ventured to introduce a nautical illustration into
"Your compass needle," he said, "points to the North Pole, and
although it has never been to the Pole, and cannot even conceive
of it, yet it testifies irresistibly to the existence of such a
"I trust you navigate your soul more skilfully than you would
navigate this vessel," retorted the Captain. "In the first place,
the needle does not point to the North Pole at all, but to the
magnetic pole. Furthermore, it has to be adjusted by magnets to
counteract deviation. Mr. Gissing, you may be a sincere student
of theology, but you have not allowed for your own temperamental
deviation. Why, even the gyro compass has to be adjusted for
latitude error. You landsmen think that a ship is simply a
floating hotel. I should like to have the Bishop you spoke of
study a little navigation. That would put into him a healthy
respect for the marvels of science. On board ship, sir, the
binnacle is kept locked and the key is on the watch-chain of the
master. It should be so in all intellectual matters. Confide them
to those capable of understanding."
Gissing saw that the Captain greatly relished his sense of
superiority, so he made a remark of intentional simplicity.
"The binnacle?" he said. "I thought that was the little shellfish
that clings to the bottom of the boat?"
"Don't you dare call my ship a BOAT!" said the Captain. "At sea,
a boat means only a lifeboat or some other small vagabond craft.
Come out on the bridge and I'll show you a thing or two."
The evening had closed in hazy, and the Pomerania swung steadily
in a long plunging roll. At the weather wing of the bridge,
gazing sharply over the canvas dodger, was Mr. Pointer, the
vigilant Chief Officer, peering off rigidly, as though
mesmerized, but saying nothing. He gave the Captain a courteous
salute, but kept silence. At the large mahogany wheel, gently
steadying it to the quarterly roll of the sea, stood Dane, a
tall, solemn quartermaster. In spite of a little uneasiness, due
to the unfamiliar motion, Gissing was greatly elated by the
wheelhouse, which seemed even more thrillingly romantic than any
pulpit. Uncomprehendingly, but with admiration, he examined the
binnacle, the engine-room telegraphs, the telephones, the rack of
signal-flags, the buttons for closing the bulkheads, and the
rotating clear-view screen for lookout in thick weather. Aloft he
could see the masthead light, gently soaring in slow arcs.
"I'll show you my particular pride," said the Captain, evidently
pleased by his visitor's delighted enthusiasm.
Gissing wondered what ingenious device of science this might be.
Captain Scottie stepped to the weather gunwale of the bridge. He
pointed to the smoke, which was rolling rapidly from the funnels.
"You see," he said, "there's quite a strong breeze blowing. But
He lit a match and held it unshielded above the canvas screen
which was lashed along the front of the bridge. To Gissing's
surprise it burned steadily, without blowing out.
"I've invented a convex wind-shield which splits the air just
forward of the bridge. I can stand here and light my pipe in the
stiffest gale, without any trouble."
On the decks below Gissing heard a bugle blowing gaily, a bright,
"Six bells," the Captain said. "I must dress for dinner. Before I
start you potato-peeling, I should like to clear up that little
discussion of ours about Free Will. One or two things you said
He paced the bridge for a minute, thinking hard.
"I'll test your sincerity," he said. "To-night you can bunk in
the chart-room. I'll have some dinner sent up to you. I wish you
would write me an essay of, say, two thousand words on the
subject of Necessity."
For a moment Gissing pondered whether it would not be better to
be put in irons and rationed with bread and water. The wind was
freshening, and the Pomerania's sharp bow slid heavily into broad
hills of sea, crashing them into crumbling rollers of suds which
fell outward and hissed along her steep sides. The silent Mr.
Pointer escorted him into the chart-room, a bare, businesslike
place with a large table, a map-cabinet, and a settee. Here,
presently, a steward appeared with excellent viands, and a pen,
ink, and notepaper. After a cautious meal, Gissing felt more
comfortable. There is something about a wet, windy evening at sea
that turns the mind naturally toward metaphysics. He pushed away
the dishes and began to write.
Later in the evening the Captain reappeared. He looked pleased
when he saw a number of sheets already covered with script.
"Rum lot of passengers this trip," he said. "I don't seem to see
any who look interesting. All Big Business and that sort of
thing. I must say it's nice to have someone who can talk about
books, and so on, once in a while."
Gissing realized that sometimes a shipmaster's life must be a
lonely one. The weight of responsibility is always upon him;
etiquette prevents his becoming familiar with his officers; small
wonder if he pines occasionally for a little congenial talk to
relieve his mind.
"Big Business, did you say?" Gissing remarked. "Ah, I could write
you quite an essay about that. I used to be General Manager of
Beagle and Company."
"Come into my cabin and have a liqueur," said the skipper. "Let
the essay go until to-morrow."
The Captain turned on the electric stove in his cabin, for the
night was cold. It was a snug sanctum: at the portholes were
little chintz curtains; over the bunk was a convenient reading
lamp. On the wall a brass pendulum swung slowly, registering the
roll of the ship. The ruddy shine of the stove lit up the orderly
desk and the photographs of the Captain's family.
"Yours?" said Gissing, looking at a group of three puppies with
droll Scottish faces. "Aye," said the Captain.
"I've three of my own," said Gissing, with a private pang of
homesickness. The skipper's cosy quarters were the most truly
domestic he had seen since the evening he first fled from
Captain Scottie was surprised. Certainly this eccentric stranger
in the badly damaged wedding garments had not given the
impression of a family head. Just then the steward entered with a
decanter of Benedictine and small glasses.
"Brew days and bonny!" said the Captain, raising his crystal.
"Secure amidst perils!" replied Gissing courteously. It was the
phrase engraved upon the ship's notepaper, on which he had been
writing, and it had impressed itself on his mind.
"You said you had been a General Manager."
Gissing told, with some vivacity, of his experiences in the world
of trade. The Captain poured another small liqueur.
"They're fine halesome liquor," he said.
"Sincerely yours," said Gissing, nodding over the glass. He was
beginning to feel quite at home in the navigating quarters of the
ship, and hoped the potato-peeling might be postponed as long as
"How far had you got in your essay?" asked the Captain.
"Not very far, I fear. I was beginning by laying down a few
"Excellent! Will you read it to me?"
Gissing went to get his manuscript, and read it aloud. The
Captain listened attentively, puffing clouds of smoke.
"I am sorry this is such a short voyage," he said when Gissing
finished. "You have approached the matter from an entirely naif
and instinctive standpoint, and it will take some time to show
you your errors. Before I demolish your arguments I should like
to turn them over in my mind. I will reduce my ideas to writing
and then read them to you."
"I should like nothing better," said Gissing. "And I can think
over the subject more carefully while I peel the potatoes."
"Nonsense," said the Captain. "I do not often get a chance to
discuss theology. I will tell you my idea. You spoke of your
experience as General Manager, when you had charge of a thousand
employees. One of the things we need on this ship is a
staff-captain, to take over the management of the personnel. That
would permit me to concentrate entirely on navigation. In a
vessel of this size it is wrong that the master should have to
carry the entire responsibility."
He rang for the steward.
"My compliments to Mr. Pointer, and tell him to come here."
Mr. Pointer appeared shortly in oilskins, saluted, and gazed
fixedly at his superior, with one foot raised upon the brass
"Mr. Pointer," said Captain Scottie, "I have appointed Captain
Gissing staff-captain. Take orders from him as you would from me.
He will have complete charge of the ship's discipline."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Mr. Pointer, stood a moment intently to see
if there were further orders, saluted again, and withdrew.
"Now you had better turn in," said the skipper. "Of course you
must wear uniform. I'll send the tailor up to you at once. He can
remodel one of my suits overnight. The trousers will have to be
On the chart-room sofa, Gissing dozed and waked and dozed again.
On the bridge near by he heard the steady tread of feet, the
mysterious words of the officer on watch passing the course to
his relief. Bells rang with sharp double clang. Through the open
port he could hear the alternate boom and hiss of the sea under
the bows. With the stately lift and lean of the ship there
mingled a faint driving vibration.
The first morning in any new environment is always the most
exciting. Gissing was already awake, and watching the novel
sight of a patch of sunshine sliding to and fro on the deck of
the chart-room, when there was a gentle tap at the door. The
Captain's steward entered, carrying a handsome uniform.
"Six bells, sir," he said. "Your bath is laid on."
Gissing was not very sure just what time it was, but the steward
held out a dressing gown for him to slip on, so he took the hint,
and followed him to the Captain's private bathroom where he
plunged gaily into warm salt water. He was hardly dressed before
breakfast was laid for him in the chart-room. It was a breakfast
greatly to his liking--porridge, scrambled eggs, grilled kidneys
and bacon, coffee, toast, and marmalade. Evidently the hardships
of sea life had been greatly exaggerated by fiction writers.
He was a trifle bashful about appearing on the bridge in his blue
and brass formality, and waited a while thinking Captain Scottie
might come. But no one disturbed him, so by and bye he went out.
It was a brisk morning with a fresh breeze and plenty of
whitecaps. Dancing rainbows hovered about the bow when an
occasional explosion of spray burst up into sunlight. Mr. Pointer
was on the bridge, still gazing steadily into the distance. He
saluted Gissing, but said nothing. The quartermaster at the wheel
also saluted in silence. A seaman wiping down the paintwork on
the deckhouse saluted. Gissing returned these gestures
punctiliously, and began to pace the bridge from side to side. He
soon grew accustomed to the varying slant of the deck, and felt
that his footing showed a nautical assurance.
Now for the first time he enjoyed an untrammelled horizon on all
sides. The sea, he observed, was not really blue--not at any rate
the blue he had supposed. Where it seethed flatly along the hull,
laced with swirls of milky foam, it was almost black. Farther
away, it was green, or darkly violet. A ladder led to the top of
the charthouse, and from this commanding height the whole body of
the ship lay below him. How alive she seemed, how full of
personality! The strong funnels, the tall masts that moved so
delicately against the pale open sky, the distant stern that now
dipped low in a comfortable hollow, and now soared and threshed
onward with a swimming thrust, the whole vital organism spoke to
the eye and the imagination. In the centre of this vast circle
she moved, royal and serene. She was more beautiful than the
element she rode on, for perhaps there was something meaningless
in that pure vacant round of sea and sky. Once its immense azure
was grasped and noted, it brought nothing to the mind. Reason was
indignant to conceive it, sloping endlessly away.
The placid, beautifully planned routine of shipboard passed on
its accustomed course, and he began to suspect that his
staff-captaincy was a sinecure. Down below he could see the
passengers briskly promenading, or drowsing under their rugs. On
the hurricane deck, aft, a sailor was chalking a shuffleboard
court. It occurred to him that all this might become monotonous
unless he found some actual part in it. Just then Captain Scottie
appeared on the bridge, took a quick look round, and joined him
on top of the charthouse.
"Good morning!" he said. "You won't think me rude if you don't
see much of me? Thinking about those ideas of yours, I have come
upon some rather puzzling stuff. I must work the whole thing out
more clearly. Your suggestion that Conscience points the way to
an integration of personality into a higher type of divinity,
seems to me off the track; but I haven't quite downed it yet. I'm
going to shut myself up to-day and consider the matter. I leave
you in charge."
"I shall be perfectly happy," said Gissing. "Please don't worry
"You suggest that all the conditions of life at sea, our mastery
of the forces of Nature, and so on, seem to show that we have
perfect freedom of will, and adapt everything to our desires. I
believe just the contrary. The forces of Nature compel us to
approach them in their own way, otherwise we are shipwrecked. It
is in the conditions of Nature that this ship should reach port
in eight days, otherwise we should get nowhere. We do it because
it is our destiny."
"I am not so sure of that," said Gissing. But the Captain had
already departed with a clouded brow.
On the chart-room roof Gissing had discovered an alluring
instrument, the exact use of which he did not know. It seemed to
be some kind of steering control. The dial was lettered, from
left to right, as follows HARD A PORT, PORT, STEADY, COURSE,
STEADY, STARBD, HARD A STARBD. At present the handle stood upon
the section marked COURSE. After a careful study of the whole
seascape, it seemed to Gissing that off to the south the ocean
looked more blue and more interesting. After some hesitation he
moved the handle to the PORT mark, and waited to see what would
happen. To his delight he saw the bow swing slowly round, and the
Pomerania's gleaming wake spread behind her in a whitened curve.
He descended to the bridge, a little nervous as to what Mr.
Pointer might say, but he found the Mate gazing across the water
with the same fierce and unwearying attention.
"I have changed the course," he said.
Mr. Pointer saluted, but said nothing.
Having succeeded so far, Gissing ventured upon another
innovation. He had been greatly tempted by the wheel, and envied
the stolid quartermaster who was steering. So, assuming an air of
calm certainty, he entered the wheelhouse.
"I'll take her for a while," he said.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the quartermaster, and surrendered the
wheel to him.
"You might string out a few flags," Gissing said. He had been
noticing the bright signal buntings in the rack, and thought it a
pity not to use them.
"I like to see a ship well dressed," he added.
"Aye, aye, sir," said Dane. "Any choice, sir?"
Gissing picked out a string of flags which were particularly
lively in colour-scheme, and had them hoisted. Then he gave his
attention to the wheel. He found it quite an art, and was
surprised to learn that a big ship requires so much helm. But it
was very pleasant. He took care to steer toward patches of sea
that looked interesting, and to cut into any particular waves
that took his fancy. After an hour or so, he sighted a fishing
schooner, and gave chase. He found it so much fun to run close
beside her (taking care to pass to leeward, so as not to cut off
her wind) that a mile farther on he turned and steered a neat
circle about the bewildered craft. The Pomerania's passengers
were greatly interested, and lined the rails trying to make out
what the fishermen were shouting. The captain of the schooner
seemed particularly agitated, kept waving at the signal flags and
barking through a megaphone. During these manoeuvres Mr. Pointer
gazed so hard at the horizon that Gissing felt a bit embarrassed.
"I thought it wise to find out exactly what our turning-circle
is," he said.
Mr. Pointer saluted. He was a well-trained officer.
Late in the afternoon the Captain reappeared, looking more
cheerful. Gissing was still at the helm, which he found so
fascinating he would not relinquish it. He had ordered his tea
served on a little stand beside the wheel so that he could drink
it while he steered. "Hullo!" said the Captain. "I see you've
I see you've changed the course."
"It seemed best to do so," said Gissing firmly. He felt that to
show any weakness at this point would be fatal.
"Oh, well, probably it doesn't matter. I'm coming round to some
of your ideas."
Gissing saw that this would never do. Unless he could keep the
master disturbed by philosophic doubts, Scottie would expect to
resume command of the ship.
"Well," he said, "I've been thinking about it, too. I believe I
went a bit too far. But what do you think about this? Do you
believe that Conscience is inherited or acquired? You sea how
important that is. If Conscience is a kind of automatic oracle,
infallible and perfect, what becomes of free will? And if, on the
other hand, Conscience is only a laboriously trained perception
of moral and social utilities, where does your deity come in?"
Gissing was aware that this dilemma would not hold water very
long, and was painfully impromptu; but it hit the Captain
"By Jove," he said, "that's terrible, isn't it? It's no use
trying to carry on until I've got that under the hatch. Look
here, would you mind, just as a favour, keep things going while I
wrestle with that question?--I know it's asking a lot, but
"It's quite all right," Gissing replied. "Naturally you want to
work these things out."
The Captain started to leave the bridge, but by old seafaring
habit he cast a keen glance at the sky. He saw the bright string
of code flags fluttering. He seemed startled.
"Are you signalling any one?" he asked.
"No one in particular. I thought it looked better to have a few
"I daresay you're right. But better take them down if you speak a
ship. They're rather confusing."
"Confusing? I thought they were just to brighten things up."
"You have two different signals up. They read, Bubonic plague,
give me a wide berth. Am coming to your assistance."
Toward dinner time, when Gissing had left the wheel and was
humming a tune as he walked the bridge, the steward came to him.
"The Captain's compliments, sir, and would you take his place in
the saloon to-night? He says he's very busy writing, sir, and
would take it as a favour."
Gissing was always obliging. There was just a hint of conscious
sternness in his manner as he entered the Pomerania's beautiful
dining saloon, for he wished the passengers to realize that their
lives depended upon his prudence and sea-lore. Twice during the
meal he instructed the steward to bring him the latest barometer
reading; and after the dessert he scribbled a note on the back of
a menu-card- and had it sent to the Chief Engineer. It said:--
Dear Chief: Please keep up a good head of steam to-night. I am
expecting dirty weather.
What the Chief said when he received the message is not included
in the story.
But the same social aplomb that had made Gissing successful as a
floorwalker now came to his rescue as mariner. The passengers at
the Captain's table were amazed at his genial charm. His
anecdotes of sea life were heartily applauded. After dinner he
circulated gracefully in the ladies' lounge, and took coffee
there surrounded by a chattering bevy. He organized a little
impromptu concert in the music room, and when that was well
started, slipped away to the smoke-room. Here he found a pool
being organized as to the exact day and hour when the Pomerania
would reach port. Appealed to for his opinion, he advised
caution. On all sides he was in demand, for dancing, for bridge,
for a recitation. At length he slipped away, pleading that he
must keep himself fit in case of fog. The passengers were loud in
his praise, asserting that they had never met so agreeable a
sea-captain. One elderly lady said she remembered crossing with
him in the old Caninia, years ago, and that he was just the same
And so the voyage went on. Gissing was quite content to do a
two-hour trick at the wheel both morning and afternoon, and
worked out some new principles of steering which gave him
pleasure. In the first place, he noticed that the shuffle-board
and quoit players, on the boat deck aft, were occasionally
annoyed by cinders from the stacks, so he made it a general plan
to steer so that the smoke blew at right angles to the ship's
course. As the wind was prevailingly west, this meant that his
general trend was southerly. Whenever he saw another vessel, a
mass of floating sea-weed, a porpoise, or even a sea-gull, he
steered directly for it, and passed as close as possible, to have
a good look at it. Even Mr. Pointer admitted (in the mates' mess)
that he had never experienced so eventful a voyage. To keep the
quartermasters from being idle, Gissing had them knit him a rope
hammock to be slung in the chart-room. He felt that this would be
more nautical than a plush settee.
There was a marvellous sense of power in standing at the wheel
and feeling the great hull reply to his touch. Occasionally
Captain Scottie would emerge from his cabin, look round with a
faint surprise, and come to the bridge to see what was happening.
Mr. Pointer would salute mutely, and continue to study the
skyline with indignant absorption. The Captain would approach the
wheel, where Gissing was deep in thought. Rubbing his hands, the
Captain would say heartily, "Well, I think I've got it all clear
"What is it?" the Captain inquired anxiously.
"I'm bothered about the subconscious. They tell us nowadays that
it's the subconscious mind that is really important. The more
mental operations we can turn over to the subconscious realm, the
happier we will be, and the more efficient. Morality, theology,
and everything really worth while, as I understand it, spring
from the subconscious."
The Captain's look of cheer would vanish.
"Maybe there's something in that."
"If so," Gissing continued, "then perhaps consciousness is
entirely spurious. It seems to me that before we can get anywhere
at all, we've got to draw the line between the conscious and the
subconscious. What bothers me is, am I conscious of having a
subconscious, or not? Sometimes I think I am, and then again I'm
doubtful. But if I'm aware of my subconscious, then it isn't a
genuine subconscious, and the whole thing's just another
The Captain would knit his weather-beaten brow and again retire
anxiously to his quarters, after begging Gissing to be generous
and carry on a while longer. Occasionally, pacing the starboard
bridge-deck, sacred to captains, Gissing would glance through the