Page:Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.djvu/158

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The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

of collecting donations will be pleased to hear that altogether a goodly sum was gathered, but as it was not quite enough, the committee voted a further amount out of the General Fund, and at a special meeting held last Friday evening, your dear Shepherd was presented with an illuminated address and a purse of gold sufficient to defray the expenses of a month's holiday in the south of France.

'Although, of course, he regrets being separated from you even for such a brief period, he feels that in going he is choosing the lesser of two evils. It is better to go to the south of France for a month than to continue working in spite of the warnings of exhausted nature and to be taken away from you, perhaps altogether—to Heaven.'

'God forbid!' fervently ejaculated several disciples, and a ghastly pallor overspread the features of the object of their prayers.

'Even as it is there is a certain amount of danger. Let us hope and pray for the best, but if the worst should happen, and he is called upon to Ascend, there will be some satisfaction in knowing that you have done what you could to avert the dreadful calamity.

'He sets out on his pilgrimage to-morrow,' concluded Starr, 'and I am sure he will be followed by the good wishes and prayers of all the members of his flock.'

The reverend gentleman resumed his seat, and almost immediately it became evident from the oscillations of the balloon that Mr Belcher was desirous of rising to say a few words in acknowledgement, but he was restrained by the entreaties of those near him, who besought him not to exhaust himself. He afterwards said that he would not have been able to say much even if they had permitted him to speak, because he felt too full.

'During the absence of our beloved pastor,' said Brother Didlum, who now rose to give out the closing hymn, 'his flock will not be left hentirely without a shepherd, for we 'ave arranged with Mr Starr to come and say a few words to us hevery Sunday.'

When they heard Brother Didlum's announcement a murmur of intense rapture rose from the ladies, and Mr Starr smiled sweetly. Brother Didlum did not mention the details of the 'arrangement'; to have done so at that time would have been most unseemly, but the following extract from the