The Bishop and Mrs. Allrope
The Bishop and Mrs. Allrope
BY THOMAS A. JANVIER
BREAKING the silence incident to the absorption of the Judge and the Colonel in a game of chess, and of the Doctor in slumber, but speaking in the assured tone of one who genially contributes his desired quota to an animated general conversation, the Bishop said affably: "Of the many curious experiences which have come to me in the discharge of the multifarious duties of my sacred office, one of the most extraordinary—"
"Check!" said the Colonel.
"—related to a baptism. It occurred—"
"Now you have done it!" said the Colonel cheerfully, as the Judge made a hurried move that uncovered his queen. "I've got you again, Judge. Mate in two moves!"
"Bother!" exclaimed the Judge grumpily. What a fool I am! But with such a row going on—"
"Permit me to call your attention, gentlemen," interrupted the Bishop coldly, "to the fact that I am endeavoring to entertain you by narrating a story that—"
"Permit me to call your attention, Bishop," interrupted the Judge hotly, "to the fact that your unsolicited venture in irrelevant narrative, at a moment when the most rudimentary perception of even embryotic politeness would have imposed upon any other person a strict silence, has lost me my game! Your intentions, conceivably, are admirable; but had you been actuated by a studied malevolence you could not possibly—"
"Oh cheese it, Judge!" struck in the Doctor. "You've spoiled my nap. Of course getting your usual whacking from the Colonel has put you in a temper—"
"I'm not in a temper," interjected the Judge.
"But that's no reason why you should be taking the change out of the Bishop. He's not to blame for it."
"He is to blame for it!" retorted the Judge. "If he had not seen fit to distract my attention by beginning one of his inane stories at the very moment—"
"Now let up, Judge! Even one of the Bishop's long-winded yarns is better than having you snapping and snarling this way. If it isn't the Lambeth Palace dinner one, let's have it, Bish. What's it about, anyway?"
"It is about a baptism," replied the Bishop doubtfully. "But of course I have no desire— Really, Judge, I beg that you will accept my sincere apology if my words were inopportune. My unfortunate absent-mindedness causes me at times to be wofully uncognizant of surrounding conditions. I assure you that I keenly regret—"
"My dear Bishop," interrupted the Judge cordially, "do not say another word! My unfortunate irascibility, but too well known to all of you, has carried me on this occasion to lengths of which I am heartily ashamed. I shall listen to your interesting story with a lively enjoyment, and so will the rest of us, I am sure."
"Well, it really is an interesting story, said the Bishop, brightening; "and the whole thing was as queer as it could be. As I was saying, it occurred shortly after I had taken Orders—while I was assistant at St. Jude's, you know." The Bishop paused for a moment, and then meditatively continued: "Speaking from my own early experience, gentlemen, and from my later observation, I say with regret that the treatment accorded to the minor clergy by their immediate superiors is very far from being what it ought to be. The rule seems to be that all the drudgery of parish work shall be thrust upon them, unameliorated by any appreciable share in parochial pleasures and rewards. Since my all-unworthy exaltation to a position of authority I have striven to abate this crying evil, and I am glad to believe that in my diocese the minor clergy—"
"Time!" said the Doctor. "As referee, Bishop, I can't have you jumping all over the ring this way. Let the minor clergy alone, and stick to your baptism—or sit down in your corner and be fanned."
"I beg your collective pardon, gentlemen," said the Bishop, "for my momentary digression—which yet was natural, since I am reminded pointedly of the evil to which I was referring by the characteristic concomitants of the incident that I am about to describe. Had Mrs. Allrope been a person of importance in the parish it is safe to say that her letter would not have been turned over to me by my Rector—as he did turn it over to me—with the curt endorsement that he was leaving town for a few days and that I was to take the matter in charge. Repeated readings of that curious epistle impressed it accurately upon my memory. It ran in these words: 'Mrs. Allrope requests that she may come with her son to be baptized in the church next Thursday morning at half past ten o'clock. You will understand why we don't want to have the baptism in service time. Please answer. Very truly yours, Mrs. Sarah E. Allrope.'
"From this letter I gained my first knowledge that such a person as Mrs. Allrope existed: of the facts concerning her that inferentially were in the possession of my Rector I was wholly ignorant; as she had neglected to give an address to which should be sent the reply that she asked for, I was precluded from obtaining by letter or by an interview the information that I desired: of which the most essential matter—left in obscurity by the illiterate wording of her request—was whether the rite of baptism was to be administered to herself or to her son."
"The philological aberrations of the uneducated," observed the Judge reflectively, "constitute one of the most annoying of the many eccentric ambiguities of ignorance. In the discharge of my duties upon the bench I constantly am compelled to intervene in order to elucidate exactness from precisely such tangles of verbal confusion. As a case in point, I may mention—"
"If the apposite, and no doubt interesting, narrative that you are about to begin is of any considerable length. Judge," interrupted the Bishop hastily, "I fear that I shall not have the pleasure of hearing it to a conclusion: and. incidentally—though this, of course, is not a matter of the slightest consequence—the conclusion of my own little story will have to be deferred until another occasion. My watch warns me that I very shortly must leave you—that I may keep an ecclesiastical engagement of such importance as to be unpermissive of delay."
"My dear Bishop, pray pardon my relevant but unseasonable interruption. I beg that you will proceed."
"Yes, drive away, Bish," said the Doctor. "For my part, I don't see that your muddle made much difference. It was up to you to baptize somebody in a fixed place at a fixed time. All you had to do was to be on deck as baptizor. and then put through whoever happened to come along as baptizee.
"How did it all work out? Did Mrs. Allrope show up? And was it she or her baby who wanted to get baptized?"
"To be precisely accurate," replied the Bishop. "it was neither of them—and the interjection of several wholly foreign elements of an additionally complicating nature into what already was a bewildering complexity created a situation so embarrassing that even now I cannot think of it without pain!"
After pausing for a moment and sighing wearily, the Bishop continued: "As you know, gentlemen, St. Jude's—filled as it is with monuments commemorative of the illustrious dead—has many visitors: wherefore I was not surprised by finding several people in the church when I entered it from the vestry, at a little before half past ten on the Thursday, to keep my appointment with Mrs. Allrope. To be exact, five people were present: an elderly man and a youngish woman, who were standing together beside the font at the main entrance: a young man, who was regarding with apparent interest the monument in the north transept commemorative of General Van Opdyke—the hero, as you all will remember, of the Revolutionary battle of Sappokanican Heights; and near this young man, beneath Bishop Cragwood's tablet, a young woman with a baby. Somewhat to my astonishment, this last—whom I not unreasonably conceived to be Mrs. Allrope—turned abruptly toward the young man as I approached her, seemingly spoke a few words to him, placed the baby in his arms, and then hurriedly left the church by the transept door. Inferring, of course, that her absence would be but momentary, I advanced to the young man and said: 'Pending your wife's return—we must hurry a little because of the nearness of the eleven o'clock service—will you kindly give me the facts necessary for record: your names, your address, the date of your infant's birth, and the name by which I am to christen it?'
"To my amazement, the young man replied in tones of great anger: 'That woman isn't my wife. I never laid eyes on her! I won't give you my name and address—and be made a fool of in the newspapers! I don't know when the beastly baby was born—or what its beastly name is! Take it—will you? I've nothing to do with it!'
" 'But—but,' I asked, 'are not you the lady's husband—Mr. Allrope?'
"The young man's very tempestuous outburst had attracted the attention of the elderly man and the youngish woman standing beside the font, and their curiosity had led them to edge up within hearing distance. To my greatly enhanced amazement—before the quite furious young man could frame a reply to my question—the youngish woman addressed me in these words: 'Who that young fellow is, I don't know. But I do know he's not likely to be anybody's Mr. Allrope. The only Mr. Allrope in this church. I reckon, is my son here—and we're here by appointment to have him baptized. Are you the minister?'
" 'Of course I'm not anybody's Mr. Allrope!' the young man burst out savagely. 'And I tell you again I haven't anything to do with this d—d baby! The girl said she'd be back in a minute, and asked me to hold it; and then, before I could stop her, she just shoved it into my arms and bolted! Will you take it? If you won't, by Jove I'll wring its neck!'
" 'You may think matters a little strange,' Mrs. Allrope went on calmly—quite as though the enraged and most reprehensibly profane young man and the baby had no existence—"about my son, Mr. Allrope here, being older than I am, and about his coming at his age. and me bringing him. to be baptized. That was why I said it hadn't better be in service time—when likely it might have made talk. You see—'
" 'If somebody don't take this baby," broke in the young man with great violence, 'and take it quick—'
" 'You see,' continued Mrs. Allrope in an explanatory tone, 'old Mr. Allrope—I don't mean this Mr. Allrope, of course, but this Mr. Allrope's father, who was an own cousin of my grandfather's, but younger, and one of the nicest old gentlemen, that is middling old, that ever lived. Well, he and my father were great friends, and this Mr. Allrope was too; and so was this Mr. Allrope's mother, who was a sweet lady, and died ten years ago, so nobody can say that anybody hurried, with blue eyes, and the loveliest gray hair that she always wore high, and that kind hearted—'
" 'I say if somebody don't take this brute of a baby this instant,' the young man fairly roared, 'I'll whang it against General Van Opdyke's monument and smash it to smithereens!' "
"Of course, Bishop," observed the Judge thoughtful, "I am confident that the young-man's violently expressed evil intention was not realized. But permit me to interrupt your very curious and interesting narrative—only for a moment—that I may point out how exactly its realization would have wrought what I may term an historical nemesis.
"As you all doubtless remember, gentlemen—as you, Colonel, certainly remember—the blot on General Van Opdyke's otherwise honorable and gallant record was his countenancing, after the heroic victory at Sappokanican Heights, an indiscriminate massacre of the Indian contingent that fought on the British side. It is of record that on that lamentable occasion even infants were destroyed ruthlessly; and that his monument should be desecrated by dashing to death against it—"
"I beg your pardon, Judge," interrupted the Colonel stiffly. "Permit me to state that I most emphatically do not remember, at least as you have stated it, the incident to which you have referred. I admit that a colorable case on the lines which you have indicated has been preferred by certain envious enemies of General Van Opdyke against that gallant officer. But his vile detractors—"
"Among whom," put in the Judge witheringly, "are all the impartial historians of the period! But of course, Colonel, you army people are bound to stand by each other. No doubt you will enter for that ruffian the plea of military necessity. Permit me to say, sir, that should you have the effrontery to enter that plea in any court over which I presided—"
"Were I in quest of justice, sir," interposed the Colonel sulphurously, "a court over which you presided would be the very last place—"
"Let up, both of you!" exclaimed the Doctor. "And let up right off! Old Van Opdyke is the backest kind of a back number—and killing people was the job he was hired for, anyway. What I want is the rest of the Bishop's story. It's a good one, Bish—better than anything I ever thought you had in you; and you've worked it up to a tangle that's first class. Did the young man smash up the baby? And how did Mrs. Allrope square things about her son being older than she was? Give us the jolly finish of—you can see that these two old idiots are ashamed of themselves and are going to keep quiet. Go right on!"
"Pardon me, Judge," said the Colonel. "The Doctor is quite right—I have been over hasty. Do, Bishop, continue."
"Pardon me, Colonel," said the Judge. "The over-hastiness has been mine. I beg, Bishop, that you will proceed."
"I regret, gentlemen," the Bishop replied icily, "that the very brief period remaining at my disposal—of the brevity of which you all were cognizant—has been exhausted by what my cloth compels me to describe as the rudely intrusive and most unseemly wrangle in which the Judge and the Colonel have seen fit to engage. In order to keep my appointment—relating, as I have mentioned, to an ecclesiastical matter of importance—I must immediately depart."
So speaking, and coldly bowing, the Bishop left the room.