All Roads Lead to Calvary

Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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She had not meant to stay for the service.  The door had stood invitingly open, and a glimpse of the interior had suggested to her the idea that it would make good copy.  “Old London Churches: Their Social and Historical Associations.”  It would be easy to collect anecdotes of the famous people who had attended them.  She might fix up a series for one of the religious papers.  It promised quite exceptional material, this particular specimen, rich in tombs and monuments.  There was character about it, a scent of bygone days.  She pictured the vanished congregations in their powdered wigs and stiff brocades.  How picturesque must have been the marriages that had taken place there, say in the reign of Queen Anne or of the early Georges.  The church would have been ancient even then.  With its air of faded grandeur, its sculptured recesses and dark niches, the tattered banners hanging from its roof, it must have made an admirable background.  Perhaps an historical novel in the Thackeray vein?  She could see her heroine walking up the aisle on the arm of her proud old soldier father.  Later on, when her journalistic position was more established, she might think of it.  It was still quite early.  There would be nearly half an hour before the first worshippers would be likely to arrive: just time enough to jot down a few notes.  If she did ever take to literature it would be the realistic school, she felt, that would appeal to her.  The rest, too, would be pleasant after her long walk from Westminster.  She would find a secluded seat in one of the high, stiff pews, and let the atmosphere of the place sink into her.

And then the pew-opener had stolen up unobserved, and had taken it so for granted that she would like to be shown round, and had seemed so pleased and eager, that she had not the heart to repel her.  A curious little old party with a smooth, peach-like complexion and white soft hair that the fading twilight, stealing through the yellow glass, turned to gold.  So that at first sight Joan took her for a child.  The voice, too, was so absurdly childish—appealing, and yet confident.  Not until they were crossing the aisle, where the clearer light streamed in through the open doors, did Joan see that she was very old and feeble, with about her figure that curious patient droop that comes to the work-worn.  She proved to be most interesting and full of helpful information.  Mary Stopperton was her name.  She had lived in the neighbourhood all her life; had as a girl worked for the Leigh Hunts and had “assisted” Mrs. Carlyle.  She had been very frightened of the great man himself, and had always hidden herself behind doors or squeezed herself into corners and stopped breathing whenever there had been any fear of meeting him upon the stairs.  Until one day having darted into a cupboard to escape from him and drawn the door to after her, it turned out to be the cupboard in which Carlyle was used to keep his boots.  So that there was quite a struggle between them; she holding grimly on to the door inside and Carlyle equally determined to open it and get his boots.  It had ended in her exposure, with trembling knees and scarlet face, and Carlyle had addressed her as “woman,” and had insisted on knowing what she was doing there.  And after that she had lost all terror of him.  And he had even allowed her with a grim smile to enter occasionally the sacred study with her broom and pan.  It had evidently made a lasting impression upon her, that privilege....